DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks
JULY 2015

The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Circulation (Planet Arts)
The liner notes for drummer Michael Benedict’s latest album begin with this sentence: “If the name Gary McFarland is unfamiliar to you, it is because he and his musical legacy have been far too neglected in the years after his premature death in 1971.” Benedict, along with the filmmaker who wrote that sentence—Kristian St. Claire, director of the documentary This Is Gary McFarland—have worked hard to expose contemporary audiences to the work of the late arranger-vibraphonist-vocalist. During his short lifetime, McFarland worked with such jazz giants as Bill Evans, Stan Getz and Cal Tjader. Benedict, leader of the band Bopitude, is also the musical director of The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, which interprets 11 of the namesake’s compositions on Circulation: The Music Of Gary McFarland. For this quintet outing, Benedict has recruited a top-notch crew to help him emulate the instrumentation that McFarland often used: Joe Locke (vibraphone), Sharel Cassity (saxophones), Bruce Barth (piano) and Mike Lawrence (bass). Barth wrote all the arrangements, showcasing the complexity and intellectualism of McFarland’s compositions, while also taking advantage of the ensemble’s ability to swing, as illustrated by “Chuggin’” and “Blue Hodge.” This project spotlights the versatility of Cassity, an underappreciated reedist who can deliver whatever the arrangement calls for, whether it’s pithy riffs, rafter-rattling shouts or sweeping, romantic melodies. Locke also travels diverse terrain in this program, adding an authoritative muscularity to the burner “Bridgehampton Strut” and a luminous sheen to “Last Rites For The Promised Land.” The band delivers a fantastic version of “One I Could Have Loved,” a gorgeous tune whose popularity has possibly been hindered because it has been recorded under numerous titles. McFarland included it on the soundtrack to Eye of the Devil (a horror film that was retitled 13) and on his 1966 Impulse album The October Suite (a collaboration with pianist Steve Kuhn). On the version by The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Cassity states the theme in gorgeous fashion. One hopes that Benedict’s heartfelt tribute project will motivate other jazz musicians to explore McFarland’s fascinating compositions.

iTunes | Planet Arts

Maria Schneider Orchestra,
The Thompson Fields
Patrons of the arts are important to bandleader Maria Schneider. She’s a pioneer of the crowd-funding concept, and four of the eight original compositions on her new album were commissioned directly by individuals through ArtistShare. Ten years ago, ArtistShare’s profile was raised dramatically when one of its projects, the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s Concert In The Garden, won a Grammy. Thanks to patronage, Schneider has continued to record whatever she wants, and she’s enjoyed the freedom to package it however she chooses. Her new, 77-minute album, The Thompson Fields, exemplifies this. The CD is housed in an elaborate hardback book with extensive liner notes, photographs, maps, fold-out pages and Audubon illustrations of birds—all reflecting Schneider’s keen interest in nature. The music reflects that connection as well, with songs inspired by specific types of birds and butterflies. The orchestra’s first album since 2007 is a deeply autobiographical work, with three tracks dedicated to people who have influenced Schneider: Brazilian reedist Paulo Moura (1932–2010), trumpeter/educator Laurie Frink (1951–2013) and jazz impresario George Wein. Schneider—who topped the Composer and Arranger categories in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll—guides her 18-piece orchestra with commanding authority, yet she gives the soloists space to make significant contributions, whether it’s Scott Robinson on alto clarinet (“Walking By Flashlight”), Gary Versace on accordion (“A Potter’s Song”), Ryan Keberle on trombone (“Lembrança”) or Greg Gisbert on flugelhorn (“The Monarch And The Milkweed”). Pianist Frank Kimbrough is featured on the title track, unfurling one of the most beautiful melodies of Schneider’s oeuvre. The volatile weather of Schneider’s native Minnesota is invoked by “Nimbus,” fueled by Steve Wilson’s alto saxophone work, which conjures images of ominous clouds and violent windstorms. On this track (as well as others here), Schneider shows a penchant for exciting dynamism, often subtracting instrumentation around a song’s midpoint, creating a spare setting for one or two players, and then building the intensity back up so that the orchestra roars again before the song’s conclusion. As an arranger, this is one of her signature talents, resulting in music that would be a terrific fit for a film score. The Thompson Fields, largely inspired by the landscape of Schneider’s youth, features lovely pastoral moments that enliven the score for a nature documentary that plays in the listener’s mind.

ArtistShare | iTunes

Pete Rodriguez, El Conde Negro

Trumpeter and vocalist Pete Rodriguez follows his outstanding 2013 album, Caminando Con Papi (Destiny), with El Conde Negro—a collection of samba originals and salsa standards originally sung by his father, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, a percussionist whose illustrious career included stints with Johnny Pacheco and Tito Puente. The album pulls Latin jazz classics through the modern jazz wringer, creating a delightful hybrid in which son and mambo rhythms are fused with odd-meter swing grooves. It’s a bold combination, but the junior Rodriguez has the credentials to pull it off. Growing up in Puerto Rico, he played trumpet and drums in his father’s band, and at only 15 years old secured a trumpet chair in the Symphony of Puerto Rico. With the encouragement of a high school classmate (saxophonist David Sánchez), Rodriguez switched his focus to jazz, and would go on to lend his lustrous trumpet tone and fiery percussive skills to albums by Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri and Chico O’Farrill. The 10 songs on his new album reveal a trumpet player with a unique approach, one that merges a vocalist’s sense of phrasing with a percussionist’s feel for rhythm. For his solos on “Gravity” and “Ten Fe,” he takes to the trumpet like a conguero, belting out fierce, percussive patterns that embolden the grooves by pianist Luis Perdomo and drummer Rudy Royston. (Bassist Ricky Rodriguez and percussionist Robert Quintero round out the cohesive lineup.) With another unique flourish, Rodriguez burrows into the low register of his horn on “Stolen Changes,” crafting lush, velvety lines that float across the chord changes like a crooner’s voice. If one of the great pleasures in jazz is getting to hear a musician develop a unique and inimitable identity, then El Conde Negro is sure to please. This album emphatically demonstrates that Rodriguez is not only an attentive student of the Latin jazz tradition, but also one of the talented young artists who will usher it into the future.

iTunes | BandCamp

Caili O’Doherty, Padme (ODO)
Composer and pianist Caili O’Doherty has delivered a fine debut recording. Born in Portland, Oregon, O’Doherty has traveled the world and spent time with a great string of musical mentors, including Thara Memory (who also taught Esperanza Spalding), pianist Randy Porter, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Danilo Pérez, to name a few. She studied with both Carrington and Pérez at Berklee College of Music, where she excelled as a scholarship student, winning two DownBeat Student Music Awards and an ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award. As a pianist, O’Doherty has nice touch and taste, but it’s as a composer that she truly shines. On Padme, a Persian name that means “The jewel is in the lotus,” O’Doherty takes us on a tour of her world journeys. “The Promise Of Old Panama City” offers a futuristic look, inspired by her trip to Panama’s capital playing with Pérez. “Tree Of Return” chronicles a visit to the historic slave port in Ouidah, Benin. “Stumptown” cracks a smiling ode to her favorite hometown coffee shop. She also demonstrates a maturity beyond her 23 years on such cuts as “Prayer Song,” with its soulful, lilting gait, and “Ravine,” a dramatic closer packed with power and shimmer. O’Doherty, who plays piano and Fender Rhodes on the disc, has surrounded herself with a terrific band of contemporaries, including Zach Brown on bass, Cory Cox on drums, Caroline Davis on alto sax, Ben Flocks on tenor, Eric Miller on trombone and Mike Bono on guitar. Drummer Adam Cruz also dips in for a cool guest spot. O’Doherty has chops, style and intellect, making Padme a really great listen. I look forward to seeing where she heads next in her travels, musically and otherwise.

Caili O’Doherty | Amazon

George Cables, In Good Company (HighNote)
There are times when you know an album will be good even before you hear it—just because of who’s playing. That was absolutely the case for me with the new George Cables recording, aptly titled In Good Company. With Cables on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass and the ever-glowing Victor Lewis on drums, there was no doubt that this music would be in good hands. It’s a great post-bop trio romp. Here we have three stalwarts of good taste and swing running through a 10-track set that honors the music of John Hicks, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Kenny Barron. The trio does terrific takes on the Hicks classics “After The Morning” and “Naima’s Love Song,” creating great music while reminding folks about the genius of Hicks (1941–2006). On the Ellington slant, Cables and company swing through “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” at a fleet tempo that just glides. They also deliver the blues with a smile and tip of the hat on Duke’s “Love You Madly.” Strayhorn gets props with the trio’s beautiful reading of “Lotus Blossom,” “Lush Life” and “Day Dream.” It’s here that Cables’ piano playing really shines with gorgeous solo introductions on each tune. In tribute to Barron, Cables went uptempo with a take on “Voyage” that’s as good as trio jazz gets. It’s fast, it’s complicated and it’s played with an ease that defies logic. There’s one Cables original on this set, “Mr. Anonymouse,” named after a mouse that popped out of his suitcase in a Chicago hotel and scampered out of the room. The backstory brings a smile as the music features Cables’ fingers racing across the keys, much like a mouse running out of a room. One part technique, one part truth, one part pure joy: That’s the music of George Cables when he’s In Good Company.

Amazon | iTunes

Kenny Werner, The Melody (Pirouet)
Kenny Werner has a touch on the piano that’s graceful, soulful and, yes, seemingly effortless. The same can be said for the trio he has performed with since 1999, featuring drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmueller. On his new album, The Melody, Werner and company very successfully play three-way melody, wherein each member reads, reacts and composes on the spot. It’s a beautiful effect, especially on the trio’s reimagining of “Try To Remember,” from the long-running, off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. The song begins with an extended Werner solo that dances and smiles before introducing the melody quietly while Hoenig eases into the cymbals and Weidenmueller plucks gently at the bass. They seamlessly guide the tune through several stylistic gyrations before finishing with a calypso wink toward Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” On the Werner original “Balloons,” the pianist creates a mood that is both beautiful and melancholy. Hoenig’s brushwork is just right, tasteful and rhythmically complex. And Weidenmueller’s solo demonstrates the touch of a master. The trio does a total rework on Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” tangling this classic with fascinating stop-start tempo changes interspersed with abrupt improvisations that burst with childlike exuberance. In selecting music, Werner says, “I try to treat the standard like an original composition, and treat the original composition like a standard.” In considering the latter, look no further than the final tune on this set, an original titled “Beauty Secrets.” It’s a powerful, timeless composition that could and should be heard and played by generations of improvising musicians. Werner has a very personal way of looking at and playing music. The Melody is a fantastic demonstration of the art, wisdom and heart of this brilliant musician.

iTunes | Amazon

Jeb Patton, Shades And Tones
(Cellar Live)

There’s a wondrous, old-school elegance to pianist Jeb Patton—from the material he interprets, to the musicians he hires, to the coat and tie he wears in the black-and-white cover photo for Shades And Tones. For this 11-track studio album, Patton has written arrangements for trio, quartet, quintet and sextet. The program salutes two recently departed piano giants—Cedar Walton (1934–2013) and Horace Silver (1928–2014)—with trio tunes that feature two of the world’s best drummers: Albert “Tootie” Heath and Lewis Nash. This straightahead program includes impressive versions of Walton’s “Holy Land” and two Silver compositions: “Cool Eyes” and “Juicy Lucy.” Patton has studied the work of Walton and Silver; his aesthetic incorporates the type of hummable melodies associated with the former and the jubilant propulsion of the latter. But Patton is also busy developing his own voice, as illustrated by the four original compositions here. Patton’s bop-flavored “Hidden Horizons” spotlights his swift, clean piano lines as well as Michael Rodriguez’s bright, bold trumpet tones. Another original tune, “Foreign Freedom,” is spiked with Dmitry Baevsky’s alto saxophone runs and a taut solo from drummer Peter Van Nostrand. (Patton will join fellow pianists Bill Charlap and Marcus Roberts—alongside bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Willie Jones III—for a July 23 concert titled “The Piano Men: From Jelly Roll to Oscar” as part of the 92nd Street Y’s Jazz in July concert series in New York City. For more information click here.)

Cellar Live: Download | Cellar Live: Physical CD

Rayford Griffin, Reflections
Of Brownie
Few musicians can claim to have made such a powerful impact on jazz as trumpeter Clifford Brown (1930–’56) did during three short years of recording. The enormously gifted trumpeter—whose death in a car accident at age 25 is one of the great tragedies in jazz—was a hard-bop pioneer, a musician whose warm, friendly tone and melodious phrasing influenced generations of trumpet players, from Lee Morgan to Roy Hargrove. Over the decades, countless musicians have been touched by Brown’s music and clean-living legacy, and have sought to pay their respects through tribute albums and homages. Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford” has become a standard not just for its beauty but also because of the beautiful life that inspired it. Similarly, vibraphonist Lem Winchester’s 1958 debut—a collaboration with the Ramsey Lewis Trio that focused on songs associated with Brown—has become a prized collector’s item. The latest tribute is a touching album by one of Brown’s nephews, Rayford Griffin, an accomplished drummer who works with Stanley Clarke and Dave Koz. Griffin’s album is unique in that it pays tribute through re-invention, seeking to capture the spirit of Brown’s music as the late trumpet player might have offered it today. Contributing to that modern feel are guest spots by a lineup of top-shelf trumpeters: Hargrove, Rick Braun, Nicholas Payton and Brown’s grandson Clifford Brown III. The late keyboard icon George Duke (1946–2013) also lends his talents to this formidable album. The result is an animated, uplifting romp through some of Brown’s all-time classics. A neo-soul take on “Daahoud” unfurls in fleet, funky stretches, while “Cherokee,” which Brown performed at a blistering clip on 1955’s Study In Brown, grooves along at a laid-back pace. The blues “Sandu” is invigorated by a stutter-step melody line and a colorful keyboard accompaniment, and the exotic “Jordu” is given an extra jolt by guitarist Everette Harp’s feisty lines. The program culminates with “Joy Spring,” which features solid drumming from Griffin and plenty of trumpet fireworks. The fact that musicians are still saluting Brown nearly 50 years after his passing is a testament to his importance. But to Griffin’s credit, this album feels like much more than a typical tribute album. It’s imbued with a different kind of admiration and respect. Clifford Brown may have been part of jazz’s royal family, but to Griffin, he was simply family.

CDBaby | iTunes

Terence Blanchard Featuring The E-Collective, Breathless
(Blue Note)

There are times when I disagree with what a DownBeat critic says about an album. In those situations, you have to remember that a review is simply one educated listener’s opinion about a recording. In the case of trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Breathless (featuring the E Collective), it was actually four reviewers. In our July issue, Breathless landed in The Hot Box, the DownBeat column in which four senior reviewers each rate a record. Breathless received ratings of 1 star, 2 stars, 3 stars and 3½ stars from our panel of experts. Now, a 3-star review still means it’s a very good record, and Mr. Blanchard doesn’t need me to come to his defense, but I thought he deserved a little better. I loved hearing Blanchard step into a full-on, groove-pop assault. His updated version of “Compared To What,” complete with samples from the Les McCann and Eddie Harris version, kicks off the set. PJ Morton from Maroon 5 serves as a soul-filled vocalist. The band drops the groove hard. And Blanchard just wails over the top. It’s a great get-up-and-dance manifesto. On the title track, the groove goes chill with compelling spoken-word lyrics delivered by Blanchard’s son, who goes by the name JRei Oliver. In a clear, honest voice, he offers this message: “Am I wrong for wanting greater? Am I wrong for believing black and blue one day would not equal pain? Am I wrong for believing that a king’s dream had come true?” The tracks “Confident Selfishness” and “Tom & Jerry” pull in strong influences from the best of electronic music—think Head Hunters and Weather Report. Special shout-outs go to drummer Oscar Seaton and bassist Donald Ramsey. Both drive the beat with passion, precision and just the right amount of swagger. Blanchard seems at home in this setting, and he should. These are musical forms that he—and all of us who love not just jazz, but music—grew up on. This album is a great, personal take on electronic music, and I hope Blanchard visits grooveland again in the future.

iTunes | Amazon

Laszlo Gardony,
Life In Real Time

Hungarian pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony adds a vivacious live performance to his impressive discography with Life In Real Time, recorded at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston with Berklee stalwarts John Lockwood on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. The album mixes inventive originals with fresh, exciting takes on standards, maintaining a thread of inspired improvisation and calibrated group interplay throughout. Gardony enlisted three of New England’s finest saxophonists to enliven this set: Stan Strickland, Don Braden and Bill Pierce each lend a distinct voice, but their greatest accomplishment is bringing to life the voice of Gardony, whose arrangements are the real gems of this album. A sensitive composer with an affinity for mood, Gardony is known primarily for his trio and solo outings, but this performance with a sextet allows for greater flexibility and stylistic range. On the horn-driven “Bourbon Street Boogie,” he nods to the bouncy rhythms of New Orleans r&b, while on the gauzy ballad “New Song,” he pays tribute to the folk music of West Africa. A funky interpretation of George Shearing’s “Lullaby Of Birdland” finds Israel and Gardony locked into a groovy rhythmic showdown, while a swirling take on the spiritual “Motherless Child” (which the pianist previously recorded with the jazz-meets-bluegrass band The Wayfaring Strangers) allows for a powerful exchange between the rhythm section and Strickland’s haunting clarinet. Gardony’s roots in European classical music, prog-rock, blues, gospel and post-bop are all reflected in this high-energy album, united and interwoven in singable melodies and infectious grooves. A tremendously skilled accompanist with the voice and vision to become a great leader, Gardony has shared stages with Art Blakey and Abdullah Ibrahim, and this album makes clear why he is deserving of such company.

iTunes | Amazon


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