Monday, July 30, 2012

Ellington Legacy; Michael White's New Orleans - Bob Stewart

With "Single Petal of a Rose", the talent-laden Duke Ellington Legacy offers an insightful tour through a program of masterpieces by Ellington and his inimitable creative partner, Billy Strayhorn. A nine-piece multi-generational ensemble founded by guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, Duke's grandson, the Legacy explores sublime ballads, hard-charging flag wavers, lustrous tone poems and sultry vocals, channeling an essentially Ellingtonian spirit from a contemporary perspective. With savvy music direction by saxophonist Virginia Mayhew and brilliant arrangements by pianist Norman Simmons, the band fully adheres to Duke's prime directive, swinging as if their lives depended on it.

New Orleans jazz luminary Dr. Michael White returns with "Adventures in New Orleans Jazz, Part 2", which lays much closer to its roots than the internationally spiced Part 1. A propelling force of classic New Orleans jazz, the unique experiences that the clarinetist has had throughout his career paired with his ability to articulate the significance and timelessness of the music has made him a highly influential voice. In addition to receiving the NEA's National Heritage Fellowship Award, White was named Louisiana Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and he also won the Offbeat Magazine Best of the Beat Award as Clarinetist of the Year, and Gambit Magazine's Big Easy Entertainment Award for Traditional Jazz Artist of the Year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Geissman's Trilogy; Evingson Samples Gimbel - Bob Stewart

In addition to leading his own groups, guitarist Grant Geissman has recorded with such artists at Quincy Jones, Chuck Mangione, and Gordon Goodwin. He's co-written the Emmy-nominated theme for the CBS-TV series "Two and a Half Men" and also writes music for the series "Mike and Molly." "Bop! Bang! Boom!" is the third in a loosely fashioned trilogy reflecting Geissman's shift to more traditional jazz expressions. "The key to making meaningful music for me is to not limit myself stylistically," says Geissman. "I actually can't envision writing an album where every track sounds the same. One of the reasons I created my own label, Futurism, was so that I could explore anything I wanted-which to me is what an artist is supposed to do."

Known for taking divergent paths, Twin Cities-based vocalist Connie Evingson's past releases have explored the music of the Beatles, Dave Frishberg, Django Reinhardt, Peggy Lee and Broadway. For her ninth release, "Sweet Happy Life", she samples the songbook of Grammy and Oscar-winning lyricist Norman Gimbel. With a healthy dose of bossa nova and samba from Gimbel's collaborations with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa and others, the disc also includes swinging jazz standards, pop hits and romantic readings of film songs.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Branford's New Quartet; Live Crawford/Sample - Bob Stewart

The Branford Marsalis Quartet has built its reputation by bringing intensity to each and every one of its live and studio performance. Says Marsalis, "Even if people don't know what we're doing, they'll feel what we're doing." Those sentiments are echoed unanimously by the group members with their newest CD, "Four MFs Playin' Tunes", the first recording by the quartet with the electrifying young drummer Justin Faulkner, who joined the band three years ago and has been impressing audiences and critics alike during the band's live performances. Core fixtures Joey Calderazzo on piano and bassist Eric Revis round out the group on a program of ambitious originals by the band members, a Monk classic and a standard dating to 1930.

In their native Great Britain, Get the Blessing are much beloved for taking the 'j' word by the scruff of the neck and giving it a good shake. The romantic rumors that the BBC Jazz Award-winning contemporary quartet met at an Ornette Coleman Appreciation Society in Bristol could easily be true. The band's unique performances hark of the rich Bristolian melancholy that revolutionized British pop music, yet reflect esoteric variations on where jazz as we know it has come from and is heading. The backbone of the band for their third CD, "OCDC", is bass player Jim Barr and drummer Clive Deamer, who double as the rhythm section for trip-hop band Portishead. The parallel assault of trumpeter Pete Judge and saxophonist Jake McMurchie complete the signature sound that defies classification.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Harrell's Number 5; Galban's Swan Song - Bob Stewart

Tom Harrell is one of the world's most respected jazz trumpeters and composers. His original works achieve that rare balance between intricacy and musicality, being at once intellectually engaging and emotionally satisfying. His playing is marked with a shrewd lyricism and sensitive tone that argues against technique for technique's sake, high note grandstanding or oblique reference. In realizing this musical vision, Harrell has surrounded himself with like-minded players and it is this, his 'working band,' that has appeared unchanged on all five of his recording for High Note Records, the newest entitled "Number Five." The result is a comfort level that approaches musical symbiosis, and a recording which is much more than another entry in an already impressive discography.

It's been a year since the passing of Manuel Galban, the maestro who left the famed Los Zafiros and then astounded the world with Buena Vista Social Club. "We began with a selection of about one thousand tunes," said the Cuban guitar legend. Indeed, "Blue Cha Cha" -- recorded in 2010 and the first solo work to be released by Galban in many years -- had been hatched conscientiously. He was a musician who liked to allow projects to mature for as long as necessary to ensure optimal results. It's a recording with an almost orchestral feel, bursting with the energy that only he could glean from the guitar, featuring a variety of styles.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mobley & Dearie Inspired - Bob Stewart

Last fall, the Vancouver-based saxophonist Cory Weeds began planning his new CD. "Over a number of years, I've gotten to know Mike LeDonne as a friend," says Weeds. "I've booked him at my jazz club...and I recorded my first CD as a leader with him." Weeds brought the keyboardist to his Cellar Live club for two nights and a short tour after that. In conversations, the two came up with a concept for a new release. "He suggested doing an album of Hank Mobley tunes," Weeds continues, "and I thought that was a fantastic idea." "Up a Step" features LeDonne on the Hammond B3 in Weeds quartet on a program of Mobley originals and songs associated with the jazz master.

Hailed as "the next important jazz singer" by Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times, Sara Gazarek is a strikingly original artist blessed with a beautiful, translucent voice. For her new project -- "Blossom & Bee" -- she is joined by her L.A.-based trio with guest appearances from guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli and the project's producer Larry Goldings on keyboards. For her first recording in five years, the group seamlessly combines fan favorites alongside refreshing new originals. Sarah reflects, "a common thread woven through a lot of this material is the subtle, yet unwavering musicianship of Blossom Dearie's music...trying to breathe a similar air of humor and sophistication that she brought."