Archive for the ‘ Jazz ’ Category

Manuel Valera – In Motion

Grammy nominated pianist and composer Manuel Valera continues to churn out ear candy. Having recently collaborated with his father, Manuel Valera Sr. and released a solo piano set, he’s back with his band, New Cuban Express, for their third venture, In Motion (Criss Cross Jazz, 2014)

Valera plays piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano. With him are Yosvany Terry, alto and soprano saxophones, and chekere; Tom Guarna, guitar; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet and flugelhorn; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; and Mauricio Herrera, percussion.

It’s like a confluence of Tito Puento, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval “Descargando” is a lively opening track. It’s as if Valera said, “Let’s just play.” The song captures many moods, represented by each musician, as they all get a moment or two in the spotlight. Terry and Sipiagin are out front much of the way, blending for a bright, sunny melody, and separating as they trade verses. A highlight is a call and response between Valera and the percussionists, which sets up the leader’s climactic solo near the end.

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Ezra Weiss Sextet – Before You Know It – Live in Portland

Some of the best jazz sounds are generated by small to mid-sized combos with two or three horns, often playing as a unit. The Ezra Weiss Sextet’s Before You Know It – Live in Portland (Roark Records, 2014) delivers that style in grand fashion.

Weiss plays piano. His sidemen are Farnell Newton, trumpet; John Nastos, alto saxophone; Devin Phillips, tenor saxophone; Jon Shaw, bass; and Christopher Brown, drums.

“The Crusher” is an upbeat, toe-tapping song. The horns shift easily from a bright, overlapping melody, to a – well, words cannot adequately describe the softer phrase. Newton steps out first, rolling notes in a manner that brings to mind Freddie Hubbard or Terence Blanchard. Weiss pounds the keys emphatically behind him. Weiss powers down briefly during the saxophone solo so we can hear more of Shaw, but the piano gets going later on. The horns come back with the same verve as the beginning.

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Joanne Tatham – Out of My Dreams

When a jazz vocalist digs into the vault of classic songs, the session can be a challenge. How to revisit popular songs without being cast aside as just another spin. The key is vocal style and solid arrangements. Joanne Tatham has both with Out of My Dreams (Café Pacific Records, 2014).

One song in the set, “Detour Ahead,” could describe Tatham’s path leading to this project. In 1993, she left a career as a New York musical-comedy performer. She married a television writer, moved to Los Angeles and began a family. Tatham says the lifestyle change was also an artistic change. She grew up loving the likes of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Sammy Davis Jr. and ultimately began to feel her way as a jazz singer in clubs and cabarets.

Sheppard’s alto flute of a voice scats in harmony with Sheppard’s sax to introduce “You Taught My Heart to Sing.” Tatham sings with verve that’s worthy of many jazz divas, including but not limited to Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Cheryl Bentyne and Tierney Sutton. The song, composed by McCoy Tyner and Sammy Cahn, is a bright, delightful piece. This Tamir Hendelman arrangement features the pianist with support from bassist John Clayton and drummer Peter Erskine. Sheppard puts his instrument through some sunny rolls in response to Tatham’s lyrical calls.

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Tineke Postma / Greg Osby – Sonic Halo

Often with small ensembles, two horn players would have different families of instruments: a trumpet and a saxophone, or a sax and a trombone, for example. Things get a little different when the two leaders play the same instruments. That’s the approach taken by Tineke Postma as she brings in Greg Osby for Sonic Halo (Challenge Records, 2014).

The musicians are Postma, alto and soprano saxophones; Osby, alto and soprano saxophones; Matt Mitchell, piano and Fender Rhodes; Dan Weiss, drums; and Linda Oh, bass.

“Sea Skies” has an appropriate, tranquil, placid vibe. The leaders both play soprano saxes with overlapping phrases, interchanging leads. The subtle play by the rhythm section adds to the haunting quality of the piece. After the structured opening, Postma and Osby trade licks, going off in abstract patterns. One can visualize time-lapse photography of clouds moving overhead while waves crash below.

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Manual Valera Sr. – Recuerdos

Memories are what Manual Valera Sr.’s Recuerdos (Mavo Records, 2014) is all about. The program is rich with history, romance and rhythms of generations of Cubans.

The Grammy-winning Valera plays alto saxophone. His bandmates are son, Manuel Valera on piano; Hans Glawischnig on bass; Ludwig Afonso on drums and Mauricio Herrera on percussion.

“Si Me Comprendieras” is a laid-back, evening on a tropical beach piece. Valera Sr. and son each stretch out freely, getting into the moment with their respective instruments. One can visualize a moonlight gathering with some dancing on a makeshift floor while others watch the dancers and listen to the band while sipping on fruity cocktails.

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Nir Naaman – Independence

It’s tempting, particularly with the advent of smooth jazz radio, for a young saxophonist to follow the formula of success and create something more suited as pop instrumental than any type of jazz. Nir Naaman breaks that particular mold with Independence (Naaman Music, 2014), which could be his way of saying he won’t conform to contemporary expectations or appease commercial radio powers. Instead, he chooses a style reminiscent of post-World War II jazz, making it fun and free rather than catchy and trite.

Naaman plays tenor, alto and soprano saxes. For most tracks, he uses a quartet format with Dezron Douglass on bass throughout. Piano duties are split between George Cables and Roy Assaf. Drums are split by Gregory Hutchinson and Ulysses Owens Jr. Trumpeter Marcus Printup sits in on two tracks.

Naaman and Printup blend on the lead for “Ohali Blues.” Trumpet and sax playing together often makes for the most enjoyable sound in jazz. The instruments split, with the tenor taking point. It’s a lively, finger-snapping tune that serves as a great introduction to Naaman of listeners who aren’t familiar with him. Printup delivers a jaunty trumpet solo. During the closing sequence, Hutchinson gives the kit a brief but intense workout.

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Miguel Zenón – Identities Are Changeable

Nationality, melting pot culture and art come together in Miguel Zenon’s Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music, 2014). It’s billed as an extended musical work for large ensemble about national identity as experienced by the Puerto Rican community in the New York City area. It’s also a spoken word testimony to that experience.

The Miguel Zenon Quartet consists of Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; and Henry Cole, drums. The “Identities” Big Band members are Will Vinson and Michael Thomas, alto saxophones; Samir Zarif and John Ellis, tenor saxophones; Chris Cheek, baritone saxophone; Mat Jodrel, Michael Rodriguez, Alex Norris and Jonathan Powell, trumpets; and Ryan Keberle, Alan Ferber and Tim Albright, trombones.

One of the voices heard in the opening track, “De Donde Vienes? (Overture),” is that of Sonia Manzano, whom many will recognize as Maria, a character on the children’s television program Sesame Street. She and others introduce themselves, say a little something about their experience, all over the back drop of a big jazz band playing something that’s part Latin, part symphonic.

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