Monday, December 31, 2012

A World of Jazz - Bob Stewart

"What's up, San Francisco? Are you ready to have a good time?" asks the timbales player and band leader Pete Escovedo at the beginning of "Live From Stern Grove Festival", his new CD capturing a live show he played earlier this year at the legendary 75-year-old San Francisco cultural venue and institution. Early in his career, Escovedo toured with Carlos Santana for three years before starting the Latin band Azteca, a group that established Escovedo as a major Latin jazz artist. He's collaborated with many of jazz's best players over the years, including Herbie Hancock, Cal Tjader, George Duke and Chick Corea. Special guests featured on this new disc include trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, guitarist Ray Obiedo, and Pete's daughter Sheila E on percussion and vocals.

Born in 1963, trumpeter Walter White grew up in a musical family in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park. Over the years, his chops enabled him to work with such top names in jazz as Maynard Ferguson, Dave Holland, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Woody Herman and the Mingus Big Band. His new CD, "Breaking Good", not only showcases with authority White's virtuosity as an instrumentalist and improviser, but his skills as a talented composer and an innovative arranger as well. Together he and the dynamic 11-piece ensemble Walter White & Small Medium @ Large deliver a brassy program of music that, in addition to four distinctive originals, features inspired interpretations of modern jazz classics by Horace Silver and John Coltrane and some big band favorites.

Also this week, Australian-born trumpeter and composer Nadje Noordhuis unveils her long-awaited self-titled debut with a stellar line-up including pianist Geoffrey Keezer, violinist Sara Caswell and drummer Obed Calvaire; the Hammer Klavier Trio, one of Germany's premiere jazz piano trios, offers up their new disc, "Rocket in the Pocket"; and saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, born in Guadeloupe and raised in France, launches his new quartet project, "The Art of Dreaming."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dawkins' New Ensemble; Feather's Nouveau Stride - Bob Stewart

One of the life goals of Ernest Dawkins is for his music and compositions to reflect the evolving collective cultural memory of the American jazz aesthetic. Dawkins is one of the world's premiere saxophonists and composers. He is an entrepreneur with years of experience working with new media technologies to produce and promote his work and that of the jazz community online and in digital venues. He leads several groups, including his New Horizons Ensemble and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, he's the founder of Chicago's South Side Englewood Jazz Fest and a former president and leader of the influential Chicago AACM. Dawkins has chosen a brand new group for his newest CD, "Afro Straight", a program of straight ahead original jazz and his takes on tunes by Coltrane, Shorter, Gillespie and others.

Nouveau Stride is the duo of lyricist/vocalist Lorraine Feather and acclaimed pianist Stephanie Trick. Feather has won rave reviews for both her collaborations with living writers and her lyrical adaptations of jazz classics. Rising star Trick is one of the very few female stride piano players on the scene, tours internationally, and was awarded the "New Talent Prize 2011" by the Hot Club of France. Their new CD "Fourteen" features Feather's lyrics set to classics by departed masters such as Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, as well as living composers Robin Frost and John Novacek. The disc is predominately stride but also includes some ragtime and boogie-woogie.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bari Claire; Prohibition - Bob Stewart

 Six-time winner of Downbeat magazine's Critic's Poll as Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition and past winner of the Jazz Journalist Association's "Baritone Sax of the Year", Claire Daly's love of jazz began as a young girl in 1971, just three months after starting saxophone lessons. While attending a big band concert, the reed section stood up for soli and Clair was on her chair screaming. After dragging her father to the stage door for autographs afterwards, she said of that Buddy Rich Band, "I'd do anything to be on that bus." Claire's career since has included anchoring the sax section of the Diva Big Band, collaborating on five CDs with pianist Joel Forrester, and releasing four discs of her own. Her brand new quartet project -- "Baritone Monk" -- features her interpretations of the music of Thelonious Monk.

In her multi-faceted musical career, vocalist Roberta Donnay has won numerous awards for her work as a singer/songwriter. However, her first music love has always been jazz. After the critical success of her 2008 album of jazz standards, produced by Orrin Keepnews, she is now focusing her attention on the music of the Prohibition Era, with her beguiling and entertaining new recording -- "A Little Sugar." It's a hip tribute to Donnay's favorite women singers of the time including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Billie and Ella.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Branker's Ascent; Warfield's Octet - Bob Stewart

"With a unique combination of depth and accessibility, Branker is able to put forth a jazz perspective steeped in soulful optimism...crafting some of today's finest compositions." So says All About Jazz of composer Anthony Branker, who leads his band Ascent on their fourth release, "Together." Dr. Branker is director of the jazz studies program at Princeton University where he directs an extensive list of ensembles. As a composer, he's received composition prizes, commissions, served as composer-in-residence, and has had his music featured in performances around the world. His jazz collective Ascent was formed in 2004 and has featured such significant jazz artists as Tia Fuller, Conrad Herwig, Mark Gross, Steve Wilson and Antonio Hart.

Recognized as a dynamic and innovative composer, bandleader and trumpeter, Bill Warfield has energized audiences, performers and writers for more than two decades. He's performed with such diverse artists at Ornette Coleman, Mel Torme, David Sanborn, Yellowjackets and Sonny Stitt. Much of his work as a leader has been in front of a big band, but for his new disc -- A Window That Shows Me the Moon -- he presents his New York Jazz Octet, featuring saxophonist Don Braden and pianist Kenny Werner. The program includes five of his own compositions along with his arrangements of works by Lee Konitz and Milt Jackson.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Poncho's Anniversary; Winard's Posse - Bob Stewart

Given all the ups and downs the music industry has experienced in the past three decades, it's remarkable to find anyone who still retains a sense of allegiance or loyalty. Master conguero, band leader and Latin Jazz legend Poncho Sanchez is the exception. Thirty years ago, close friend and jazz icon Cal Tjader recommended he sign with Carl Jefferson's Concord Records. Tjader told him that Jefferson was looking for new talent and he highly recommended Sanchez. Jefferson gave Poncho a one record deal with his Concord Picante imprint, and the rest is Latin Jazz history. Thirty years and 26 albums later, Sanchez is still with the label. He celebrates the anniversary with "Live in Hollywood", recorded this past summer.

Drummer Winard Harper has been playing drums since the age of five, honing his chops over the years accompanying the likes of Dexter Gordon, Mark Murphy, Houston Person and Betty Carter. He brings the sum total of those experiences to his new disc -- "Coexist" -- with a new band he dubs Jeli Posse. Jeli is another name for griot, a wandering combination of storyteller, historian, poet and musician. As Winard puts it, the Jeli Posse, "represent different ethnic, religious, and social background transcending differences for a common cause." The disc blends elements of African motifs, blues, gospel, swing, soul jazz, blistering bop and even a touch of funk. Special guests include Frank Wess, Mark Gross, and Sharel Cassity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Taste of Abbasi; Hamilton Drives DePaul Ensemble - Bob Stewart

"Producing so vivid a music that it can almost be tasted, Abbasi sounds like no one who has gone before him. His compositions are sheer genius." So says All About Jazz regarding New York guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi, who has emerged as one of the most creative musicians of his generation. His forays into hybrid jazz informed by Indian-Pakistani music have set him apart from the crowd. His newest venture and ninth disc as a leader, "Continuous Beat", finds him in a highly interactive trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. Along with Abbasi's singular compositions, the trio interprets and recontextualizes tunes by Keith Jarrett, Monk, and Gary Peacock.

Drummer Jeff Hamilton is featured as performer and composer with the critically-acclaimed DePaul University Jazz Ensemble on the new CD, "Time Passes On." This dynamic, swinging set of big band arrangements was recorded live at Chicago's legendary Jazz Showcase last year. The intensity and brilliant performance of Hamilton and the Ensemble is beautifully captured, and the audience at the venerable jazz club adds to the electricity and excitement of the moment. The beautifully crafted arrangements from DePaul students, faculty and alumni include tunes from the Great American Songbook plus original tunes by Hamilton and members of the Ensemble.