Archive for the ‘ Jazz ’ Category

The Puppeteers – The Puppeteers

They aren’t controlled by strings or by a hand in a sock. In fact, the Puppeteers are the ones in control. The Puppeteers (Puppet’s Records, 2014) brings together four accomplished musicians who logged many hours on stage at the former Puppet’s Jazz club in Brooklyn.

The players are Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Bill Ware, vibraphone; Alex Blake, bass; and Jaime Affoumado, drums. Collectively, their associations include The Jazz Passengers, Steely Dan, The Manhattan Transfer, Sun Ra, Stan Getz, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, Jaco Pastorious and Wynton Marsalis.

Blake’s “On the Spot” has a main phrase that reminds one of the classic, “Giant Steps.” The similarities end there. Ware then goes on a jaunt worthy of Lionel Hampton, with some intense support from the other musicians. O’Farrill and Affoumado get their licks in, too.

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Ark Ovrutski – 44:33

Born in Kiev, Ark Ovrutski began playing violin at age 8 – influenced not by classical music but by his father’s love of American jazz stars Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Now, Ovrutski releases his third album as a leader, 44:33 (Zoho Records, 2014).

Ovrutski plays double bass. With him are trombonist Michael Dease, saxophonist Michael Thomas, pianist David Berkman and drummer Ulysses Owens. Benito Gonzalez plays electric piano on one track.

The set begins in Bourbon Street fashion with “New Orleans.” Owens’ gumbo drum play mixes well with Berkman’s piano. Thomas plays the soprano on this track, alternating lines with Dease. During one sequence, the two horns sound like police sirens. Then they overlap with independent melodies, like the Dixieland style. The pair then step aside for a moment, leaving things to the trio of Berkman, Owens and Ovrutski. All three stretch out plenty, complementing one another. The horns return for the finale.

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Robert Miller – Twenty

During his career, New York bassist and composer Robert Miller has been creating jazz music with a lot of different musicians for several decades. He started with solo projects and formed bands like “The Robert Miller Group” and “Project Grand Slam” with some of the best musicians of the genre. Several Grammy-nominations and Top 20 Jazz-Radio-Hits were the result of that creative process.

For his new Album Twenty, Miller has chosen sixteen tracks from his huge oeuvre, mostly taken  from the two releases Play (2007) and Spring Dance (2012) together with some older songs of Miller’s solo work.

The whole album describes the unique career of Robert Miller and is -at the same time- like a journey through the different styles of Jazz Music of the last twenty years.

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Ulysses Owens Jr. – Onward & Upward

Ulysses Owens Jr. is counted among the new breed of young drummers on the New York scene who are fast approaching veteran status. Onward & Upward (D-Clef Records, 2014) establishes that status.

Owens is a member of bassist Christian McBride’s trio. The Jacksonville, Florida, native and 2006 Julliard School of Music graduate brings a mix of original songs and covers on his third outing as a leader. Accompanying him are Anat Cohen, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Michael Dease, trombone; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Christian Sands, piano; and Reuben Rogers, bass. Appearing on selected tracks are Charles Turner, vocals; Adam Rongo, alto saxophone; Benny Benack, trumpet, vocals and percussion; and Matthew Rybicki, bass.

Onward and Upward is bookended by two drum solos, the title song in which Owens is complemented by hand claps, and “Drum Postlude,” which pays homage to Max Roach’s “The Drum Also Waltzes.”

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Ariel Alexander and Jon Bremen – Street Cries

Using a traditional song as inspiration for the title, saxophonist Ariel Alexander and guitarist Jon Bremen release Street Cries (2014), a short set of five songs that offers about 25 minutes of play.

In addition to their primary instruments, Alexander and Bremen are credited with programming. The other musicians are Louis Cole, drums; Vardan Ovsepian, keyboard and piano; Tim LeFebvre, bass; and Sara Leib, vocals.

“Street Cries of Charleston” is a bit abstract. Punctuated by the midtown rush of the drum track, it has a mix of sounds from the melodic saxophone to various electronic effects. Rather than a discernible composition of verse, chorus and middle break, it’s more a case of dropping into the inner city and letting things happen.

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Enrico Granafei – Alone and Together

The harmonica, as genres go, is most often associated with the blues. It’s also used as an occasional background or solo instrument in other styles. Enrico Granafei shows that it’s also an effective lead instrument in jazz with Alone and Together (Consolidated Artist Productions, 2013).

For the first six tracks, the lineup consists of Granafei, pianist Amina Figarova, bassist Rick Crane and drummer Billy Hart. After that, it’s mostly a tour de force by Granafei as he plays some combination of harmonica, acoustic guitar, shaker, hands-free chromatic harmonica, DB guitar (a combination bass and guitar), nylon string guitar and vocals. Trumpeter Wallace Roney, violinist Vitali Imereli and guitarist Dave Stryker are among the additional players.

“Christina” is a tranquil ballad that allows Granafei plenty of freedom. The accompanying musicians contribute nicely, but it’s mostly about the leader. Granafei mixes composer Buster Williams’ melody with improvisation. Figarova delivers an elegant middle solo.

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Hutchinson Andrew Trio – Prairie Modern

Winners of the 2013 TD Grand Jazz Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Hutchinson Andrew Trio plays it straight with Prairie Modern (Chronograph Records, 2014). The album was produced with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and Alberta Music.

The trio is comprised of Kodi Hutchinson, bass; Chris Andrew, piano; and Karl Schwonik, drums. Hutchinson has performed on the Canadian scene since 1992. Among his associations are Ingrid Jensen, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. He is an instructor at the University of Calgary’s Summer Jazz Program. Andrew graduated in 1990 from Grant MacEwan College, and since then has been on the Alberta scene. He has performed with Joshua Redmon, Pete Christlieb, Paquito D’Rivera, Jump Orchestra and the Edmonton Symphony.

Special guests on this date are saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who appears on five songs, and percussionist Rogerio Boccto, who contributes to three tracks.

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Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble – Live from New York!

Live from New York! (2013) by Mike Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble is the kind of concert performance that sets itself apart from other recordings. The concept of going into Gillespie Auditorium, setting up some microphones and recording with an intimate audience is familiar to fans who’ve heard albums like Maynard Ferguson’s M.F. Horn 4 & 5 Live at Jimmy’s.

Pianist Longo mostly serves as part of the rhythm section, instead putting the horns out front. With him are Tom Hubbard, bass; and Mike Campenni, drums. The trumpets are Chris Rogers, John Replogle, Brian Davis and Waldron Ricks. The trombones are Sam Burtis, Nick Finzer, Nick Grinder and Earl McIntyre (bass). And the saxophones are producer Bob Magnuson (alto), Lee Greene (alto), Frank Perowsky (tenor), Mike Migliore (tenor) and Matt Snyder (baritone). Vocalist Ira Hawkins appears on three tracks.

The set begins with a swinging rendition of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not.” The 13-piece horn section is at the heart, each group moving in and out of the front but at times the entire ensemble working together. Davis, Greene, Long and Perowsky are the soloists. But the highlight is the power of the full ensemble, whether the horns are harmonizing or injecting overlapping phrases.

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Lizzie Thomas – Easy to Love

Jazz vocals in the tradition of old-school divas is what you get with Easy to Love (2013) by Lizzie Thomas. It’s a set of 10 standards, including a few that are slightly off the beaten path.

A variable ensemble of musicians assists Thomas. For most tracks, she’s accompanied by pianist Xavier Davis, trumpeter Antoine Drye, guitarist Ron Affif and bassist Yoshi Waki. Appearing on selected tracks are Janelle Reichman, clarinet; Greg Ryan, bass; Frank Lacy, trombone; and Anne Drummond, flute. Drum duties are split between Frank Levatino and Alvester Garnett.

“Close Your Eyes” is a delightful ballad. Balance between voice and instruments is superb. Thomas charms with her singing while the musicians provide plenty of ambience. Waki, Davis and Garnett maintain the pace behind solos by Affif and Drye. Thomas comes back for the finale, delivering the lines with verve before closing with a fade stop.

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Les Grant – Way Forward Way Back

“A wonderful voice and a phrasing that is impeccable,” says “Ben folds at his best meets Frank Sinatra,” says Storyline Record Reviews. These are some of the comments about vocalist Ben Grant’s Way Forward Way Back (2013).

It’s critical for young vocalists, hoping to be discovered, that they don’t do what’s been done many times before. So it’s refreshing that grant, in delivering his interpretations of some classic songs, avoids the typical standards from the American Songbook. With Grant are pianist John Chin, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Dan Rieser.

The classic “Blue Skies” bookends the set, with the radio edit on the front end and full version as the closer. Grant’s voice is his own, but his phrasing on this track is similar to that of Michael Buble. After delivering the familiar theme, Grant takes off on a happy-go-lucky scat. Ellis and Chin contribute brief solos.

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