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DownBeat Editors‘ Picks

Editors’ Picks

Otis Brown III, The
Thought of You
(Revive/Blue Note)
On The Thought Of You, his debut album as a leader, Otis Brown III announces his intentions loud and clear. He will be hip. He will be challenging. He will work with the best musicians of his generation. And this very, very talented drummer will swing—hard. Brown, a founding member of Joe Lovano’s Us Five, has also worked with Terence Blanchard, Kurt Elling and Oliver Lake. There’s no doubt that this is a drummer-as-leader recording. There are some tunes that drive, like “The Way (Truth & Life),” tunes that swing, like “The Thought Of You–Part I” and tunes that make you think and even sigh, like “The Two Become One (For Paula).” Brown surrounds himself with star power. Robert Glasper, a classmate of Brown’s at The New School, takes the piano chair and plays some Fender Rhodes, too. Ben Williams plays bass. John Ellis adds his magic on tenor sax and bass clarinet. Keyon Harrold delivers on trumpet. (Ellis and Harrold were also college classmates of Brown.) And then there are the guests. Gretchen Parlato helps deliver the coolest version ever of country singer Shania Twain’s 1998 hit “You’re Still The One.” Vocalist Nikki Ross brings a beautiful breath of gospel to “I Love You Lord/We Exalt Thee/In The Beginning.” The tune also features Shedrick Mitchell, who sends it into the heavens on Hammond B-3. And Bilal delivers some incredibly hip vocals on “The Thought Of You,” parts I and III. With all of these parts moving in and out of the recording, it could prove difficult, but Brown is able to weave the music, ensemble and his guests into a tight fabric of musical hope and power with the help of Derrick Hodge co-producing. This is a tremendous debut.

iTunes | Amazon

Hilary Gardner, The
Great City
Vocalist Hilary Gardner titled her solo debut The Great City, she posed on a rooftop amid skyscrapers for the cover photo and the album’s song titles convey its metropolitan theme: “Brooklyn Bridge,” “Autumn In New York,” “Chelsea Morning” and “Manhattan Avenue” among them. In the album’s liner notes, Gardner, who grew up in Alaska but has been based in New York since 2003, writes that the city “can infuriate, mystify, exhaust and delight a person—sometimes all in the same day.” The album serves as a sophisticated meditation on urban life, as well as an introduction to Gardner, who won accolades a few years ago for her role in the Frank Sinatra-themed musical production Come Fly Away. Gardner has been inspired by Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn and Anita O’Day, but she doesn’t sound stuck in the past, and her choice of composers (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nellie McKay) reveals an aesthetic that gracefully mixes more recent work with vintage standards. On the title track, against Elias Bailey’s buoyant bass line, Gardner sings, “You’re caught in a whirlpool of East Side cafes/ Where love is a cocktail of beards and berets/ And blues are the main things you’re drinkin’ about.” That tune, penned by Curtis Reginald Lewis (1918–’69), is a good example of Gardner’s ability to deliver poetic lyrics with assurance and style. Her version of “Sweetheart (Waitress In A Donut Shop)” has an appealing theatrical flair, and her interpretation of McKay’s “Manhattan Avenue” is sonic painting at its best. Gardner, who has full command of her powerful instrument in all registers, is an engaging storyteller, rather than a showy, rattle-the-rafters belter. Hearing a singer like Gardner in a great venue is one of the supreme pleasures of living in a big city. She is definitely an artist to watch in 2015.

Anzic Records | Amazon

Andy Bey, Pages From
An Imaginary Life
When Andy Bey delivers a ballad, he takes his time. He sings it sooo sloooow that you can feel every ounce of heartache, pain, nuance and joy that he has experienced in his 74 years of life. Pages From An Imaginary Life presents Bey at his gut-wrenching best. On the opening track, “My Foolish Heart,” he squeezes hard-earned tears from the lyrics “Your lips are much too close to mine/ Beware my foolish heart,” and tugs at your heartstrings with one of the most iconoclastic vocal deliveries in jazz. All 15 tracks here consist of just Bey on vocals and piano; this is an artist who needs no other accompaniment. When Bey performs the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On?” you know it’s been too long. When he sings “I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues,” you nod and say, “Yes, you do, Mr. Bey.” He puts the worry in “Worried Life Blues,” the heartache in “Good Morning Heartache” and everything into “Everything I Have Is Yours.” This album—which includes four originals as well as great renditions of “Love For Sale” and “Take The ‘A’ Train”—is a fitting follow-up to his terrific 2013 release, The World According To Andy Bey. This disc is highly recommended as late-night listening, and as an introduction to one of the true masters of the Great American Songbook.

iTunes | Amazon

Peter Hand Big Band,
Out Of Hand
Peter Hand’s latest album is cause for celebration for fans of traditional big bands. The guitarist/bandleader/ arranger recorded Out Of Hand with his namesake 16-piece big band, plus special guest Houston Person, who plays tenor on three of the nine tracks. The program consists of five Hand originals and four interpretations. When Hand arranges outside material for the band, he masterfully adds a new dimension to it. A fresh arrangement of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” is in 6/4 and includes a killer trumpet solo by Eddie Allen. The version of Bobby Hebb’s 1966 pop hit “Sunny” features clever horn charts and is bolstered by Person’s improvisational flights. Person’s gorgeous, fat tenor tone also enhances a romantic reading of the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn song “Day Dream.” Hand and Person demonstrated their love of composer Harold Arlen on the live 2009 tribute disc The Wizard Of Jazz (Savant), and here they interpret Arlen’s “Blues In The Night.” When the tenor man cuts loose with a muscular, melodic solo, it’s clear that at age 79 he’s still playing at a very high level. Hand’s guitar solos are tasteful and restrained throughout, showcasing his fluid style with vibrant runs and compelling conversations with his bandmates. The original material includes the Latin-flavored “Night Echo” and the uptempo swing number “The Elevator,” fueled by a cookin’ tenor sax solo by Ralph Lalama.

iTunes | Amazon

The Cookers, Time And
Time Again
This all-star septet deals in hard-bop like no other working band today, and Time And Time Again is its most ambitious outing to date. Veterans Billy Harper (tenor sax), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) are more than fluent in the languages of blues and bebop, having paid decades of dues in bands of such stalwarts as Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Lee Morgan and Max Roach before going on to lead their own outfits. Trumpeter and producer David Weiss, a relative youngster at 49, has always brought an informed energy to this exhilarating collective. And new band member Donald Harrison, 54, who replaces Craig Handy on alto saxophone, has no trouble matching their passion and intensity. The Cookers adopts a take-no-prisoners approach to a program of all original material, the soloists blowing with fearless abandon and the ensemble adhering to advanced arrangements by Weiss and Harper. Trying to harmonize two trumpets, alto saxophone and tenor (horns that are fairly close to one another in range) can be tricky, but these guys find creative ways to stretch the voicings and use the piano and bass parts to fill them out during ensemble passages. It takes a certain amount of strength and restraint to strike a balance between going for broke and honoring the written note, and The Cookers prove they have both to spare. The band will perform at The Painted Bride in Philadelphia on Nov. 1 and at the Exit 0 Jazz Festival in Cape May, New Jersey, on Nov. 7.

iTunes | Amazon

Kahiba, The Sixth Sense

There’s a drive and melodic beauty to the music of Kahiba that makes this European trio simply infectious. Led by Heinrich von Kalnein, a German saxophonist and flutist, The Sixth Sense is the group’s third effort, and it’s a hit. The album’s title track could almost serve on the soundtrack for a James Bond film. Drummer Gregor Hilbe drives the tune’s galloping beat and adds some very cool electronics color, while Christian Bakanic and Kalnein take turns improvising over the rhythms on accordion and flute, respectively. On the fantastically uplifting “Pfeil,” the trio adds three trombones and a tuba to deliver a bright palette of sound for Kalnein to glide over on tenor. The larger ensemble slides in and out on the album with great effect, especially on songs like “The Sun,” a nifty Kalnein creation made even better by Hilbe’s love of offbeat rhythms and Bakanic’s overdubbed float between accordion and Fender Rhodes. What makes Kahiba so good is that they have a “sixth sense” with each other. All three are gifted musicians who have played together for a long, long time. The five Kalnein-penned tunes demonstrate his chops as both a composer and arranger. And the group’s ability to be in the pocket and take the music outside, too, creates surprise after surprise. Overall, this is an album that’s satisfying and intriguing. I love this trio.

Natango | Amazon

Richard Galliano, Sentimentale

Just like harmonicist Toots Thielemans, the name Richard Galliano has become synonymous with the instrument he has mastered: accordion. In recent years, Galliano has recorded albums of Bach and Vivaldi compositions, collaborated with Wynton Marsalis’ quintet on a live disc and teamed up with violinist Christian Howes for 2013’s Southern Exposure (Resonance). The sessions with Howes led to the accordionist recording his new leader project for Resonance, Sentimentale. It’s an aptly titled album, full of intoxicating melodies. Galliano has assembled a superb quintet to bring his vision to fruition: pianist Tamir Hendelman (who arranged 10 of the 12 tracks), guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Whether Galliano is playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or interpreting John Coltrane’s “Naima” (as he does here), the listener may be initially surprised by the unusual instrumentation but then won over by the virtuosity. Galliano—who has also recorded a tribute to soundtrack composer Nino Rota—offers another soundtrack gem here, a lovely version of Francis Lai’s “Plus Fort Que Nous” from the 1966 film A Man and a Woman. The opening two tracks seem like natural choices for Galliano to interpret: Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba” (from his 1976 album My Spanish Heart) and the Dave Grusin-Lee Ritenour song “Canto Invierno.” Other selections, like a muscular take on Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind,” are more unexpected. But Galliano makes it all work beautifully. Whether he’s interpreting Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” or playing the Brazilian standard “Verbos Do Amor,” Galliano allows listeners to hear the accordion in intriguing musical contexts.

Resonance Records | iTunes

Jerome Sabbagh, The Turn

Saxophonist-composer Jerome Sabbagh has let his quartet mature for 10 years. Together with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ted Poor, he has recorded an album that illustrates the benefits of working with musicians who have a deep understanding of each other’s strengths. The Turn features all original compositions, with the exception of “Once Around The Park,” a tune by the late drummer Paul Motian, who hired Sabbagh and Monder to play in his New Trio at the Village Vanguard in 2011. Sabbagh, who was born in France but has lived in New York since 1995, crafts strong original melodies here, and his playing style is marked by a distinct lyricism. The album’s cohesiveness comes in part from the strength of the band’s sound, a clear and warm signature that was successfully captured in the live-to-analog recording technique used by engineer James Farber. (Sabbagh produced the album.) Monder shows his knack for creating interesting harmonic textures when he’s not ripping and searching through a distorted solo. Martin is a top-shelf bassist with an outstanding ear, and Poor provides a steady groove that is refreshingly void of unnecessary fills and effects. The title track, with its dirgelike opening, eventually transforms into an uptempo romp. The aggressive mood of “Banshee” is offset by the laid-back warmth of “Ascent.” Elsewhere, the swinging tune “The Rodeo” is spiked by Monder’s intricate, authoritative solo, and “Electric Sun” features a rock backbeat. The 11-minute “Cult” is all about atmospherics, some explosive, some dark and unsettling. Sabbagh has built a reputation as a great bandleader, and The Turn is another strong step in the upward trajectory of his career.

iTunes | Amazon

Paul Bollenback, Portraits In Space And Time (Mayimba)
Paul Bollenback is a guitarist’s guitarist. Known best for his work with organist Joey DeFrancesco, Bollenback has an easy mastery of the instrument that few can rival. His tone and technique are flawless. He’s not going to try to blow listeners away with torrents of notes (though he has the chops). Instead, Bollenback prefers to play to the strength of the song. On his new album of all original material, Portraits In Space And Time, we find Bollenback in a trio setting with bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer/percussionist Rogerio Boccato. This is an intimate recording that suits Bollenback’s elegance. Take, for example, the beautiful ballad “Sunset.” It’s a perfect Brazilian-tinged vehicle for laid-back interplay within the trio. Bollenback plays a nylon-stringed classical, easing through the melody with a few well-placed flourishes—a touch of bravado here and a dose of the blues there. “Open Hand” begins with an ominous bass solo by Lepore before Bollenback enters with atmospheric echo, then drops the needle on a bit of open-air funk. This 10-minute track is full of great riffs, runs and surprises. And Bollenback can also deliver the blues. On “Swingin’ At Capone’s,” the guitarist knows just when to pull back and when to step on the gas. There are a few rapid-fire passages that will have jaws dropping and guitar students heading back to the shed, but they’re always done with taste. Portraits In Space And Time documents the best of Bollenback as a guitarist in his prime.


The Vanguard Jazz
Orchestra, OverTime
(Planet Arts)
The late maestro Bob Brookmeyer (1929–2011) had a long history with The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, one that dated back to its previous incarnations under the leadership of co-founders Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. Brookmeyer played trombone, composed, arranged and music-directed at various points in the 48-year history of New York’s most famous big band, which continues to perform every Monday night at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Brookmeyer contributed a lot of charts to The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra book—meticulously crafted contemporary arrangements that challenged the band’s formidable sight-readers and improvisers while raising their collective game to higher levels of refinement. When he died almost 3 years ago, Brookmeyer had completed only four of the compositions he had planned for this project. As a result, OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer, recorded earlier this year, includes four additional pieces that he wrote for the band starting in the early ’80s, including his landmark arrangement of “Skylark” (the sole standard here). Pianist Jim McNeely, who now serves as musical director, points out that the “star” of this orchestra has always been its repertoire—making Brookmeyer-as-writer the star of this recording. However, Brookmeyer did a great job of writing to the strengths of individual band members. All four of the album’s “new” compositions were crafted to highlight specific soloists: “Oatts” (for alto saxophonist Dick Oatts), “Scott” (trumpeter/flugelhornist Scott Wendholdt), “Rich” (tenor saxophonist Rich Perry) and “At The Corner Of Ralph And Gary” (tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan). Of the older Brookmeyer material, “Skylark” finds Oatts reprising his solo role on a memorable arrangement that was originally recorded live at the Vanguard in 1980. “The Big Time” is a full band feature that starts the album with a bang amid quickly changing instrumental textures and tricky chromatic shifts. “XYZ” picks up where Brookmeyer’s classic “ABC” left off. And “Sad Song,” whose title is a self-effacing jab at Brookmeyer’s reputation for penning maudlin-sounding arrangements, includes yet another inspired solo by Oatts, this time on flute. While longtime members of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra clearly miss Brookmeyer dearly, there’s nothing sad about this parting gift of exquisite arrangements, expertly executed by one of the finest big bands in the land.


Alex Mercado


True North


Jody Jazz

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