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DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks
JULY 2014

Rebirth Brass Band,
Move Your Body

(Basin Street)

Founded in 1983, the Rebirth Brass Band has become a New Orleans institution that keeps finding fresh ways to reinvigorate the brass band format. On its latest album, co-founders and siblings Philip Frazier (tuba) and Keith Frazier (bass drum) guide the octet through a program that deftly combines a dance-worthy dose of r&b with the instrumentation of a brass band. The song titles here leave no doubt as to what the group’s goals are: “Rebirth Makes You Dance,” “Move Your Body,” “Rebirth Groove” and “Who’s Rockin’, Who’s Rollin?” On the title track, the infectious melody, bright horn lines and whooping, chanting vocals (“Shake that thing!”) evoke a house party that’s about to explode. On the aptly titled “Take ’Em To The Moon,” the surging waves of brass blasts set against uptempo percussion would make for a catchy theme song to a superhero cartoon. Although this 11-song program is centered around a sweaty, steady, don’t-stop-now dance groove, things slow down a bit for the reggae-flavored “On My Way,” featuring a trombone solo by a young headliner who has long revered this band: Trombone Shorty. Elsewhere, vocalists Quinten “Q” Spears and Erica Falls—two of the disc’s nine guests—help out with the ribald “HBNS,” a humorous nod to “booty calls” conveyed via text message. Producer Tracey Freeman, snare drummer Derrick Tabb and trumpeter Chadrick Honore make a great production team for this project. They have crafted a wildly energetic vibe that incorporates overlapping dialogue, chants, shouts and traditional singing without distracting from the music. Play this album at your next party—or, if you’re lonely and blue, turn the volume up on this joyous program and prepare for the Rebirth Brass Band to propel you right off that couch.

CD | iTunes

Fred Hersch Trio, Floating

Pianist Fred Hersch has composed more than 30 songs dedicated to friends, family and fellow musicians. His new trio album, Floating, includes tributes to his mother and grandmother; pianist Kevin Hays; vocalist-bassist Esperanza Spalding; and Hersch’s bassist, John Hébert. “As a composer, it’s a way into something,” Hersch said. “I’ll start to work on a piece and something really reminds me of someone.” On the two-minute “West Virginia Rose,” Hersch’s unaccompanied piano evokes a carefree Southern night—a sweet and understated familial tribute. Compare this slow-rolling tune—or the drifting title track—to the disc’s opener, a version of “You And The Night And The Music” with a labyrinthine arrangement, or the funky “Home Fries,” a salute to Hébert and his Louisiana birthplace. What makes a piano trio distinctive? For Hersch, Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, the answer lies in the breadth of the material, a mix of styles and tempos, and, of course, each player’s high level of musicianship, sensitivity and responsiveness. Following up its 2012 live album Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto), the trio takes full advantage of the studio to capture sonic detail and nuance. “Far Away,” written as a tribute to the pianist Shimrit Shoshan (McPherson’s late wife), pulls the listener into a deep trance, thanks to Hersch’s shimmering piano, the drummer’s hypnotic use of mallets and the rise and fall of Hébert’s bass.

iTunes | Amazon

Elio Villafranca and The Jass Syncopators, Caribbean Tinge

With Caribbean Tinge, pianist and composer Elio Villafranca sets out to create the seemingly impossible—a melting pot of music that pays tribute to the history of jazz, but sounds thoroughly contemporary with a mixture of musical traditions from Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and his homeland of Cuba. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would be a mess, both musically and politically. But Villafranca lovingly conjures then conquers this challenge. He writes and plays with passion and a deep understanding of musical nuance, with chops equal to some of the greatest pianists Cuba has ever produced. And he has surrounded himself with a contingent of open-minded, A-list musicians. Villafranca created his Jass Syncopators back in 2009 with the lofty goal of expanding the musical palette for jazz. With purpose and clarity, Villafranca turned this broad and beaming vision into reality during this live set, recorded Oct. 11, 2012, at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City. He views it as a continuation of Duke Ellington’s syncopated approach to music combined with Jelly Roll Morton’s “Spanish Tinge” concept. “Sunday Stomp At Congo Square” leads off the set, alluding to the early 19th century New Orleans location where slaves were allowed to dance and sing on Sundays. In his excellent liner notes, Villafranca explains that the rhythmic foundation for the tune is based on an Afro-Puerto Rican bomba rhythm called “Yubá.” All you need to know is that it swings hard. So does the title tune. Villafranca wrote it specifically for his ensemble of rhythm section, three horns, two percussionists and a dancer. The horn arrangements are rapid bop flows that break into a bomba rhythm called the “Sicá.” Greg Tardy, Terell Stafford and Villafranca deliver shimmering solos over the beat on tenor sax, trumpet and piano, respectively. The set consists of nine Villafranca compositions, all of which are terrific, from the beautiful “Last Train To Paris” to the closing “The Source In Between.” Villafranca is an excellent composer and amazingly gifted pianist who guides this incredibly tight ensemble through a program that makes you think, smile and tap your toes.

iTunes | Amazon

Dino Saluzzi Group,
El Valle de la Infancia
Bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi’s music takes listeners to places where joy and sorrow go hand in hand; where incredible technical musicianship and love stories are as natural as breathing; where power and grace are entwined. On El Valle de la Infancia, Saluzzi has brought his “family” band together for the first time since 2005, with his brother Felix on tenor sax and clarinet, son José María on guitars and nephew Matías on bass. The family members are joined by Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela on classical guitar and Quintino Cinalli on drums and percussion. It’s an astounding ensemble cast. The album is devoted to memories of growing up in Argentina—one of Saluzzi’s recurring themes. They are powerful memories, indeed. Pueblo, a gorgeous, three-part suite, is a fertile example. Part I, “Labrador,” washes over the listener as a beautiful guitar solo by José María, leading into Part II, the achingly plaintive “Salavina,” which begins as a heartbreaking duet between José María and Brizuela before Saluzzi’s unmistakable bandoneon eases in, full of confidence and crescendo. That’s followed by some lovely group work and the suite’s final part, “La Tristecita.” This is just one part of a fully satisfying program, also highlighted by La Fiesta Popular, a joyous, five-part suite, and “Tiempos Primeros,” the tranquil concluding number. Recorded in Buenos Aires, this album’s production is fantastic: Every note from Saluzzi’s bandoneon rings clear. You can almost hear the musicians breathing in the studio. It adds an immensely personal, intimate feel to the proceedings. If you’ve never been to Argentina, Saluzzi and company let you experience what it sounds like. And with El Valle de la Infancia, they will make you fall in love with their homeland.

Amazon | iTunes

Azar Lawrence, The Seeker (Sunnyside)
The Seeker is a jaw-dropping joy: great musicians, great compositions and flavor that pays homage to John Coltrane while carving its own driving path. Azar Lawrence flashes soul-filled, spiritual tenor and soprano chops with a brand of fire that’s riveting and timeless. For those not familiar with Lawrence, get hip now. Here’s a saxophonist who has played and recorded with everyone from Horace Tapscott and Elvin Jones to McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis. Like Trane, Lawrence believes in the healing power of music. He brought that power to the bandstand of New York’s Jazz Standard, where this live recording was made in December 2011. He also brought an all-star cast, with Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and the fine young pianist Benito Gonzalez. This set of six Lawrence originals—and one by Gonzalez—just smokes. “Ghandi,” the opening tune, fires out of the gate at a rapid tempo. Lawrence and company bring some very cool Eastern flair to a hard-bop backdrop that would make Art Blakey proud. Lawrence, Gonzalez and Payton all deliver crazy solos during this 10-minute exploration. “Lost Tribes Of Lemuria” is a sweet medium-tempo number highlighted by a thoroughly catchy, horn-driven head from Lawrence and Payton. They make two horns sound like eight—they’re just that good. “The Seeker” serves as a launch pad for Lawrence to explore what can be done on the soprano. As the song’s title suggests, the music takes twists and turns as Lawrence creates beautiful vistas. That brilliant track is followed by a great Gonzalez-penned tune called “One More Time,” the lush Lawrence tune “Rain Ballad” and the laid-back “Spirit Night,” with the kick-ass “Venus Rising” capping the program. If you’re a fan of the world’s greatest horn players, Lawrence and Payton are at the top of their game here. If you love the power of a rhythm section, there is none finer than Essiet, Watts and Gonzalez. And if you’re a fan of jazz, The Seeker is simply fantastic.

iTunes | Amazon

Aldo del Rio, El Bardo (Sunnyside)
New York-based record label Sunnyside connected with the talented Cuban tresero-composer-singer Aldo del Rio in 2000, while recording trombonist (and onetime Paquito D’Rivera sideman) Juan Pablo Torres’ Son Que Chévere, which the label co-released with Circular Moves the same year. Del Rio, a native of Cuba’s western, tobacco-producing province, Pinar del Río, plays the six-string tres cubano. On these sessions recorded on June 2–3, 2000, in Havana, his conjunto group features two percussionists: Djamila, a maraca player and vocalist; and Jesus El Quiño, on bongos and campana (bells). The tresero sticks to an inviting program of popular Latin songs—from an intriguing mix of Cuban, Spanish, Mexican and Colombian composers—that span several decades, from the first half of the 20th century to today. “Lagrimas Negras” (“Black Tears”)—by Cuban composer Miguel Matamoros, a 1920s hit for his famous namesake trio—is given a stirring rendition by the ensemble here, full of heartbreak and longing. Del Rio brings the music up to date with the title track, written by contemporary Mexican guitarist Nicho Hinojosa. His own “Congo De Ampanga” reflects his African heritage: “Yo mismo soy El Congo,” he sings proudly. Del Rio was featured on a 1998 compilation of regional artists, From The Tobacco Road Of Cuba (Alula Records), and released the 2007 disc Soy Como Soy (available at digital retailers)—but you may have to keep digging to find out more about this intriguing artist. We’re fortunate that Sunnyside was able to capture this recording when it did. (If you’re a Beats Music subscriber, check out a DownBeat playlist celebrating great Cuban composers here.)

iTunes | Amazon

Michael Dease, Relentless
Trombonist Michael Dease applied his extensive knowledge of big bands when preparing to record his sixth leader album, Relentless. “My big band is inspired by the sophistication of Ellington, the pacing of Basie, the fervor of Dizzy and the tumult of McCoy Tyner’s and Charles Tolliver’s big bands,” Dease said. This straightahead program consists of 10 Dease arrangements: four of his own songs, four standards and a song apiece penned by Randy Brecker and Eric Alexander. Dease’s song “Force”—featuring solos by pianist Miki Hayama, alto saxophonist Todd Bashore, trumpeter Etienne Charles and Dease—nods to the tradition of elegance in the big band aesthetic while also avoiding any stuffiness. Superb solos are the norm here, and trumpeter Greg Gisbert’s muscular attack is impressive on the title track. An intricate arrangement of Jimmy Dorsey’s “I’m Glad There Is You” showcases Dease’s mastery of trombone balladry. The fun factor skyrockets with a lively reading of “Two Bass Hit” spiked with scatting by trumpeter Benny Benack III, Dease and one of his mentors, Wycliffe Gordon, who also adds slide trumpet to this track. Like Gordon, Dease is an esteemed jazz educator, and Relentless includes one of his most democratic compositions, “Webster Grooves.” The track—which spotlights 10 soloists, including the excellent bassist Linda Oh—originally was written as a commission for the big band at Missouri’s Webster Groves High School, and it reflects both Dease’s sense of humor and his democratic sensibility. Big band aficionados (or any fan of straightahead jazz) will find plenty to enjoy on this classy disc.

Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart, Ramshackle Serenade (Pirouet)
The trio of Larry Goldings (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Bill Stewart (drums) has been playing together for 20 years, and their sensitive rapport is evident on the exquisite Ramshackle Serenade. Many organ trios are wholly devoted to uptempo grooves but that’s not the case here, as these veterans frequently explore balladry and subtlety. The album is dedicated to DownBeat Hall of Fame guitarist Jim Hall (1930–2013), whose influence certainly can be heard in Bernstein’s clean, elegant lines. All three musicians contribute original compositions to the program, which concludes with a lovely rendition of Horace Silver’s “Peace.” Bernstein, who won the category Rising Star–Guitar in the 2014 DownBeat Critics Poll, wrote a gorgeous melody for “Simple As That,” and on his other composition here, “Useless Metaphor,” he delivers a clinic on jazz guitar. Stewart’s “Blue Sway” starts out as a quiet ballad before building up a compelling intensity. Goldings offers a soulful, smoldering sound on the trio’s rendition of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Luiza.” Elsewhere, the players trade solos in a spacious arrangement of “Peace,” featuring Goldings’ poignant organ coloration, Stewart’s superb brushwork and Bernstein’s crisp, clean lines. This trio is reminiscent of a great theater ensemble in which each actor contributes something essential to the scene, especially when he is not the focal point of the action. Bravo.

Louis Armstrong &
The All Stars, Complete
Newport 1956 & 1958
Louis Armstrong’s performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival can now be heard in its entirety, on this Mosaic four-LP set. Famously panned by DownBeat editor Jack Tracy at the time, the ’56 concert turns out to be lively and entertaining; Armstrong’s critics, once many, are fewer today. These recordings are also part of Mosaic’s nine-CD box set compiling all of the trumpeter’s Columbia and RCA live recordings, including the famous 1947 Town Hall concert; a previously unreleased Carnegie Hall show from the same year; various European dates that made up the original 1956 LP Ambassador Satch; and the trumpeter’s “St. Louis Blues” concerto grosso collaboration with conductor Leonard Bernstein, at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. Armstrong’s band in 1956 included trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Edmond Hall, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Dale Jones and drummer Barrett Deems—often considered The All Stars’ golden era. At Newport ’56, they turn in a fine rendition of the New Orleans tune “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” with the leader, Hall and Young all blasting bluesy solos. “Stompin’ At The Savoy” is a return to the ’30s jazz heyday, and features Kyle’s swinging solo and Deems’ rousing drum breaks. Vocalist Velma Middleton is the star on blues number “Ko Ko Mo,” though Armstrong interjects call-and-response vocals and trumpet fills to great effect. Four songs from Armstrong’s performance at the ’58 Newport festival—“Lazy River,” “Tiger Rag,” “Rockin’ Chair” (with trombonist-vocalist Jack Teagarden) and “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In”—will be familiar to fans of the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Armstrong’s band at that year’s festival included new members: bassist Mort Herbert, drummer Danny Barcelona and clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, whom the trumpeter had also employed at Town Hall. The group’s set list at this edition of the festival varies from the ’56 engagement, with only six numbers repeated. Armstrong included two tunes from the then-recent Bing Crosby film High Society, which featured a score by Cole Porter and on-screen performances by the trumpeter and his band. At Newport, they are clearly having fun on the upbeat “Now You Has Jazz,” while the Caribbean-Latin feel of “High Society Calypso” is a pleasurable changeup. Armstrong brings out guests and former All Stars Teagarden and cornetist Bobby Hackett to close out the Newport set—making it a near-reunion of the personnel at the Town Hall gig 11 years earlier.


Blue Note

Jody Jazz

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