Monday, October 25, 2010

The Elegance of Stallings and Person - Bob

Passionate, robust singers with the sensitivity of a Carmen McRae and the sass of a Dinah Washington aren't exactly thick on the ground these days, which is what makes Mary Stallings' return to the studios a cause for rejoicing. Her voice is, at once, contemporary and timeless, encompassing the entire history of jazz vocals. For her newest release -- "Dream" -- the former colleague of Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie sails through a program of standards and obscurities with elegance and ease, her slightly blues-tinged phrasings beautifully supported by pianist and arranger Eric Reed.

Houston Person is a gentleman of jazz, a versatile player with a seemingly effortless approach that's elegantly sensuous and unabashedly romantic. There's a smooth, creamy warmth to his tone, but a decidedly muscular undercurrent keeps saccharine sweetness firmly at bay. On his new CD -- "Moment to Moment" -- his players provide superbly understated, gently swinging support with trumpeter Terell Stafford receiving plenty of time in the spotlight. Beautifully recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, Person explores and elaborates on melodic themes, reflecting upon rather than reinventing each composition with an emphasis on the sheer beauty of timeless tunes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Donatelli & The World of Jazz - Bob

The problem with jazz singing is that almost no two listeners can agree on exactly what it is. Fans of unbridled scatting tend to dismiss vocalists with a more lyrical side; listeners who enjoy lyrical storytelling have less regard for performers who use words as vehicles for ostentatious display. This makes the singing of Denise Donatelli particularly remarkable, since her style is able to employ the positive aspects of both camps. The first thing you notice is the rich timbre of her voice, which has the clarity and flexibility to sing almost any imaginable genre. With musical direction, arrangements and keyboard contributions by Geoffrey Keezer, Donatelli shows herself to be a jazz singer who belongs in the upper echelon of modern jazz vocalists with her new CD, "When Lights Are Low."

It's been a long journey for the five talented young musicians and composers of the band UoU from their start in Japan. They first arrived in the U.S. to attend at Berklee School of Music in Boston during the late '90s and early 2000s. Upon completion of their studies, they individually began working with top artists on the New York City jazz scene, including Mark Turner, Marcus Printup and Walter Blanding, before they formed UoU in 2008. Their debut CD -- "Home" -- is comprised of original compositions which fuse elements of Japanese-inspired melodies along with American jazz rhythms and harmonies.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Accoustic Abbasi, Cohan's Second Release - Bob

It seems perfectly natural that a musician having developed a distinctive sound and approach to his instrument would want to broaden his palette. Guitarist/composer Rez Abbasi has been perfecting his own guitar voice, mainly playing electric, for some time. With his new CD, "Natural Selection", Abbasi forgoes the electric and turns to the acoustic guitar along with a new, unique ensemble. The Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet features the talents of Bill Ware on vibes, Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Eric McPherson on drums. As Abbasi explains, "One of the elements that make the group stand out is the texture of acoustic guitar with vibes, bass and drums-something I haven't heard up until now. The sound is organic and chamber-like and it granted me a fresh palette to write new music from."

Guggenheim Fellow Ryan Cohan has distinguished himself as a vital original voice to be heard amongst the elite young jazz artists on the global music scene today. Upon receiving his performance degree from DePaul University in 1993, Cohan began making his mark playing and writing with the top jazz and Latin musicians in Chicago. He has since performed with many iconic artists including Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Paquito D'Rivera, and Kurt Elling. The pianist's second release as leader, "Another Look", features Geof Bradfield on reeds, Lorin Cohen on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums, a quartet that's been playing together in the U.S. and internationally for seven years.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jazz Influences Pop, Triveni - Bob

Jazz has a long history of taking popular songs of the day and making them vehicles for improvisation. Organist Joey DeFrancesco's current exploration of the music associated with Michael Jackson, "Never Can Say Goodbye", is merely the latest addition to the list. Though this music is linked with the undisputed "King of Pop," this is jazz at its finest. Jackson and his music have become part of the American landscape every bit as much as the singers that preceded him and the songs, as DeFrancesco's spirited readings bear witness to, give themselves smartly to an improvisatory approach.

The ensemble Triveni is the perfect conduit for the musical explorations of Avishai Cohen, who takes full advantage of the space and freedom this piano-less trio affords. Drawing from hard-bop, straight-up funk, and avant-garde, drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Omer Avital and trumpeter Cohen effortlessly move from the American songbook to standards and Cohen's original compositions on "Introducing Triveni." Cohen's sometimes provocative and always soulful playing has never sounded so assured as he continues to establish himself as one of his generation's leading musical voices.