Archive for the ‘ Jazz ’ Category

Elias Haslanger – Live at the Gallery

Play loose. Play happy. Have fun. And the audience will appreciate you. That seems to be the message Elias Haslanger gave his sidemen for Live at the Gallery (Cherrywood Records, 2014), which refers to the Continental Club Gallery, where the saxophonist and his band play regularly on Mondays.

Haslanger plays tenor sax. With him are Dr. James Polk, Hammond B3 organ; Jake Langley, guitar; Scott Laningham, drums; and Daniel Durham, bass.

“One for Daddy O” starts the set. It’s gritty, soulful, no-nonsense. The tenor growls at its lowest depths, then wails at some of its highest heights. The audience responds accordingly. Langley stretches out during the middle, playing like an old-school blues artist. Polk gets his chance to shine as well.

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Kiki Ebsen – Scarecrow Sessions

ScarecrowSessionsSinger-songwriter Kiki Ebsen stubbornly refused her famous father’s repeated suggestions to learn how to sing jazz standards. Rebelliously she insisted upon forging her own path as a solo artist and accompanying keyboardist-vocalist with a bevy of A-list pop stars. Eleven years after the passing of her dad, actor Buddy Ebsen, Kiki will pay tribute by releasing exactly the type of collection he fervently urged her to record, “Scarecrow Sessions” on September 30 on the Painted Pony Media label. The material comes from The Great American Songbook, a stunning original (“Missing You”) penned by the song and dance man turned movie and television star, and songs associated with his career, including an ill-fated starring role in “The Wizard Of Oz.” The first single prefacing the acoustic jazz set produced by David Mann, “If I Only Had A Brain,” is the No. 2 most added radio single this week.

“We are losing the iconic talents many of us grew up with. By recording these songs, I hope not only to honor my father’s memory and his love of jazz, but to create a musical statement that is truly my own. I’m connecting his past to my present in a way that will no doubt leave me forever changed,” said Ebsen, who completed the album as a Father’s Day offering after a successful Kickstarter campaign. “Through this journey I have discovered my voice. A simple yet beautiful tone that emanates from a true place in my heart; a place of lightness and ease.”

Front and center throughout the collection is Ebsen’s classically-trained voice that sounds like it was born to sing jazz – warm, elegant, supple, pretty and passionate. She recorded in New York City finding inspiration while strolling the same streets that her father roamed during his Vaudeville days. Ebsen is accompanied by a first-rate ensemble featuring some of the Big Apple’s best players such as Chuck Loeb (electric and acoustic guitars), John Patitucci (acoustic and electric bass), Henry Hey (piano and organ), Clint de Ganon (drums) and Mann on saxophone and flute. Live strings add grace and emotional depth to the proceedings. Continue reading

Brenda Earle Stokes – Right About Now

Newlywed Brenda Earle Stokes has undergone some changes over the past few years. But now that she’s somewhat settled, she’s back in business as a pianist, composer and vocalist. Right About Now (2014) captures seven original songs and a few remakes.

Stokes also plays Rhodes and triangle. Accompanists are Matt Aronoff, bass; Jordan Perlson, drums; Steve Cardenas, guitar; and Joel Frahm, saxophone.

“It’s High Time,” one of Stokes’ original compositions, has an upbeat, 3/4 tempo. Stokes’ inflections add emphasis on key beats. The band solidly supports the voice. One gets the sense the singer has reached the limits of patience and is ready for the object of her affections to act. This song is right at home in a smoky jazz club where most of the patrons opt for hard liquor on the rocks rather than wine, beer or cocktails. The way Frahm and Stokes play their instruments contributes to that vision. As if the song weren’t enjoyable enough already, Stokes injects some Fitzgeraldesque scatting toward the end.

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Felipe Salles – Ugandan Suite

Take pieces of jazz, smidgens of classical and bits of African music, and you’re likely to get something close to Ugandan Suite (Tapestry Records, 2014) by Felipe Salles. This unusual, yet interesting approach brings nearly an hour’s worth of music.

Salles players tenor and baritone saxophones, flutes and bass clarinet. Fellow wind instrumentalist David Liebman plays wooden flute, soprano and tenor saxophones. Nando Michelin is on piano, and Keala Kaumeheiwa handles the bass. Versatile percussionist Damascus Kafumbe handles several instruments, including tube-fiddle, bow-harp and madinda xylophone. Rogerio Boccato takes care of other percussion.

Each piece is named for a wild animal. “Movement 1 – The Buffalo” begins quietly. Slowly, the beat begins to pick up, possibly indicating a herd on the move. The flute and piano gradually come into the picture, setting up the layered theme, with Salles and Liebman handling multiple instruments. The music comes to an abrupt stop, shifting to a slower, softer mood – as if the herd found a watering hole. The animals rest and drink but with senses on full alert for predators. Then the beat returns as the herd moves on. Liebman plays the soprano with flits here and there, followed by a more rhythmic tenor. One of the horns does some rolling wails, symbolizing an animal crying out. The intensity builds as Salles and Liebman answer each other’s calls, at times overlapping. After a narrow escape, the herd moves on.

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Libby York – Memoir

Jazz Vocals can be dreamy. Jazz vocals can be sassy. Jazz vocals can be trite. Jazz vocals can be just plain delightful. The last one is where Libby York comes in. The acclaimed vocalist offers her personal touch on standards with Memoir (Libby York Music, 2014).

Accompanists are John Dimartino, piano; Martin Wind, bass; Greg Sergo, drums; and Warren Vache, cornet. Guitarist Russell Malone sits in on three tracks. And Warren Vache also adds vocals to two songs.

The delight is evident from the first track, “Give Me the Simple Life.” No gimmicks here. York’s joy of singing comes through in her rendition of this standard. She’s aided by happy-go-lucky solos by Vache and Dimartino. Toward the end of the interlude, Vache and Sergo engage in a playful call-and-response sequence.

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Felix Peikli – Royal Flush

After Pete Fountain and Benny Goodman, you don’t hear a lot about the clarinet in jazz. Sure, the instrument is there but mainly as an ensemble piece and for solos. Felix Peikli reminds us that this horn is also good as a lead instrument. Royal Flush (2014) presents fresh sounds that are creative and contemporary.

Piekli plays clarinet and bass clarinet. He’s joined by Michael Bono, acoustic and electric guitar; Takeshi Ohbayashi, piano; Alexander L.J. Toth, acoustic bass; and Anthony A. Toth, drums. Other contributors are Kim Wigaard Johansen and Sara Lade, vocals; Sarpay Ozcagatay, flute; and Eric Kwong, sound design and effects.

“Heat” features guest trumpeter Lee Hoganes. Trumpet and clarinet pair up for a bit, but mostly it’s Hoganes who leads the main body of this tune. After a transition followed by a piano interlude, Peikli comes in with verve. His play is worthy of Fountain and Goodman.

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Manuel Valera – Self Portrait

Reviewing instrumental music is always a challenge. Finding a way to express in words what a song or album concept sounds like, and doing it in a manner that helps the reader make a decision on whether to buy a recording, all without being redundant or using clichés is not an easy task.

The challenge is even greater when it comes to solo piano. So you can rest assured that if a writer does review such a work, the recording more than warrants it. Such is the case with Manuel Valera’s Self Portrait (Mavo Records, 2014).

Valera decided to focus on four elements in creating this work. He wanted to present his jazz influence, covering songs by Bill Evans, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; his Cuban roots with two Latin jazz pieces; his classical influence, with the “Impromptu” selections; and his own compositions. For this date, Valera plays a restored 1918 Steinway D.

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