In what is becoming a frequent tradition for me on Something Else, I'm taking a batch of CD's and doing pocket reviews on them, in order to get you all caught up on what's been getting the spins lately. Whereas the prior two release roundups (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) zeroed in on mostly rock and other non-jazz records, this time we're fixated on jazz only: post-bop, klezmer, fusion and Latin.
Here's a quartet of CD's released since the beginning of the year that deserve at least a few words of mention. The fact that none of these are big names" shouldn't distract from the great amount of acumen displayed by every one of these lesser-known players. Three of these four discs represent debut releases as leaders. Nothing like fresh new talent, hot and straight out of the oven...
Jim GuttmannBessarabian Breakdown
Diversity" must be this guy's middle name. This bassist/arranger/bandleader veers from dance orchestra klezmer (Philadelphia Sher") and smokey trio jazz ("And The Angels Sings"), to seductive salsa ("Descarga Gintano (Gypsy") and Eastern-European folk-flavored organ funk ("Bessarabian Breakdown"). That's just for starters.
Quite an impressive start for a discography, but it was a start thrity years in the making. That's how long ago Guttmann joined the just-forming Klezmer Conservatory Band, a unit that's largely credited with kicking off the whole modern klezmer revival that's currently in full swing. He's also served as a member for the self-explanatory Really Eclectic String Quartet and had prior to that served in the eclectic bluegrass foursome Cheap Thrills. Guttmann has also played in bands that performed rock and a variety of other kinds of music.
It's from this deep well of experience that Guttmann pours into his belated debut record. The Jewish traditional music permeates the whole record, giving the wildly divergent record a unifying feel. None of the songs are Guttmann's and many are traditional, but you'd never know it from the leader's perceptive arrangements. Bessarabian Breakdown, on the street since March, is the right record to spin when you want something traditional done in an nontraditional way.
In the past, we've saluted Italian trumpet players, saxophonists and pianists here, but the land of Michelangelo and Loren has also produced some mighty fine drummers. At least there's one such drummer that I know of, and his name is Peppe Merolla.
Merolla comes from a musical family, and he's learned to sing, act and holds a masters degree in classical trumpet. But drumming is his main gig, and he persues it with a passion on Stick With Me. This isn't the kind of record where the drummer is soloing all over the place, Merolla takes on the Art Blakey role of bandleader and keep of the groove. And the music contained within is the down the line hard bop pioneered by Blakey and practiced so well by contemporary outfits like Derrick Gardners' Jazz Prophets. For this first record of his, Peppe assembles a murderer's row of talent: Steve Turre (trombone & shells), Jim Rotundi (trumpet), John Farnsworth (tenor sax, co-producer with Merolla), Mike LeDonne (piano) and Lee Smith (bass), with most of the compositions contributed by Farnsworth. Merolla's lone composition Naples" is a pleasing blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and resolute 4/4 walk. Turre, one of the world's most in-demand trombone players, burns on numbers lie Ferris Wheel" and the relaxed Latin Marbella." Farnsworth not only provides some memorable melodies, such as the waltzing Princess Of The Mountain," but brings his confidently swinging style to the table, too. The rest of their players aren't so shabby, either; LeDonne sizzles on Mozzin'" and Rotondi puts forth a nicely lyrical and whimsical solo on Junior."
On the first time out, Peppe Merolla understands his role if to make everyone in front of him better. In doing that so superbly on Stick With Me, Morella ends up being the most outstanding player of the group.
Last spring I marvelled over the world-wide fusion of Oleg Kireyev found on his 2008 release Mandala. This year, Kieyev shows off his straight jazz credentials in a collaboration with pianist Keith Javors in an album they call Rhyme & Reason.
Javors comes from here in America, but the chemistry that stemmed from a performance that occurred only two years ago is what makes this record click. Along with ace bassist Boris Kozlov and our man E.J. Strickland on drums, Rhyme and Reason is about as close to being a flawless mainstream jazz album in this age as you can get. A half dozen compositions co written by both, the repertoire easily moves from the crisp swing of Rhyme And Reason" to the shuffling laid back rhythms of Sierra Nicole's Boss." For these sessions, Kireyav adapts his tenor to such a lean and buttery tone, which he leverages to great effect on the ballad What Is Love." Even when he gets footloose at the beginning of Springtime," he stays light on his feet. Javors meanwhile comps with rich chords but is never overpowering. He also gets to step out into the limelight exclusively on Happenstance" and makes the most of the opportunity, employing an unhurried blend of single line and block chord deliberations that stay firmed grounded to the melody.
Pleasant on the ears but never lacking in taste, Rhyme and Reason makes this a collaboration I look forward to hearing more from. This one comes from Javors' own Inarhyme label and went on sale last month.
The VW Brothers have nothing to do with cars, but they really are brothers. And their brand of jazz seeks to make listening to jazz feel like fahrvergngen. Born and raised in Amsterdam but a longtime fixture on the San Francisco music scene, drummer Paul van Wageningen and electric bassist Marc van Wageningen have gigged with bright lights like the Tower Of Power, Paquito D'Rivera and Pete Escovedo.
Bolstered by solid supporting cast that includes Sheila E, Wayne Wallace and Dave K. Mathews, the music is well-performed and lacks any rough edges. The program ranges from neo-classical to funk, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian, and it's all done with some authority. Those brothers have got some chops, too. But, as is the bane of many long-time session players finally leading their own sessions, they lack an identifiable sound; there's no common thread throughout the exhibition of all the styles they've mastered. On occasion, they do rise above the generic with an imaginatively reworked version of Miles Davis' Milestones" and the original spunky Latin delight El Abogado," but overall, the music doesn't stand enough out from the contemporary jazz crowd to make it particularly memorable.
Muziek became available in March, and comes from Wallace's Patois Records.
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