Friday, October 29, 2010

My Review of Bassist Chris Colangelo's "Elaine's Song"

Elaine's Song
Chris Colangelo;s  “Elaine’s Song”   
C Note Records     CNR 001
Many weeks ago I started to listen to an album I received in the mail by West Coast bassist Chris Colangelo titled “Elaine’s Song”. Despite my unfamiliarity with his name or pedigree I was impressed by the musicians he had assembled for this date. The Cd is predominantly a compilation of the bassist's own
original compositions. With fellow West Coast artists like Bob Sheppard on saxophones, John Beasley on piano and Steve Hass on drums, each  accomplished musicians in their own right, I was looking forward to my maiden voyage with bassist Colangelo and his music. This west coast excursion did not disappoint. After a few satisfying listens, I put the album aside with every intention of writing a review. I was impressed with Bob Shepard’s  playing on this album,  so much so that I made a point of trying  to see this veteran saxophonist ,a hidden but in demand voice on  many a studio session, at the venerable Van Nuys jazz watering hole Charlie O’s , while I was out visiting my daughter in LA several weeks ago 

Sadly Sheppard did not perform as scheduled, but we did get to see another local talent, the saxophonist Chuck Manning. Things subsequently got hectic and several reviews and live performances later, I realized that I never got around to reviewing Colangelo’s fine album.

From the start of this Cd you can hear the solid compositional acumen of Colangelo. Despite the predominantly original format, most of the songs resonate like they have always belonged to the jazz lexicon.
The entire album is as good a representation of the best in contemporary jazz as you will find, with fine ensemble playing throughout. Saxophonist Sheppard, whose a first call studio musician, gives a notable performance on the opener “ The Ubiquitous One” where he plays with a warm, precise tone that slithers through the chicane-like changes effortlessly, John Beasley’s piano solo is tasteful at every turn. Colangelo’s bass is full toned and round and Hass’s drums are taught and punctuate the breaks nicely.
O the steamy “Like Kenny”, dedicated to one of Colangelo’s  favorite saxophonists, Kenny Garrett, altoist Zane Musa steals the show with a fabulously rambunctious burst of pure spontaneous combustion. I will be watching out for more of this guy.
The group cooks on this post bop vamp, with Colangelo’s full walking bass lines anchoring the driving rhythm. Hass adds a series of rolling tom crashes and a polyrhythmic solo as saxophonists Clatsworthy and Musa trade licks with Beasley and each other, ending in a splendidly crisp finale.

The title song, “ Elaine’s Song” , is dedicated to Colangelo’s wife and features some of this fine player’s solo bass lines. He has a round, generous tone that is warm, precise and inventive. Beasley is effective as Colangelo’s foil , keeping his comping light but brilliantly sympathetic. Shepard is particularly mellifluous and lyrical here.

On “Green and Blue” flautist Benn Clatworthy is featured in a clever take off the Evans/Davis classic.
His Dolphy like sound has a  hauntingly eerie quality.  Pianist Beasley is superbly tasteful here and once again proves to work extremely well with Colangelo as the composer solos on bass.

The straight-ahead “Gryffindor’s Revenge” will please anyone who appreciates a tight piano trio with truly in-sync musicians of such high caliber as Colangelo, Hass and Beasley.

“Watts Important” is a dedication to drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts .

 Colangelo deftly performs bassist Steve Swallow’s  elegant “Falling Grace” with pensive, resonating notes at the intro. Throughout the thoughtful piece, Beasley and Colangelo show a telepathic interchange of ideas that is both prodding and sympathetic, while Hass skillfully weaves his percussive sounds around them. Beasley performs his most expansive solo of the album here and it is jaggedly beautiful. Colangelo shows his most dexterous side as he solos with a fluid grace
towards the last quarter of the song.

John Coltrane’s “Straight Street” features Bob Sheppard on a wonderfully buoyant soprano saxophone. The versatile Sheppard has an affinity for playing this sinewy sounding instrument with joyful ease on this breathless solo.

Colangelo saves a real gem for his closer, the evocative “From Dark to Light”. Drummer Hass predominantly plays cymbals here as Beasley tickles out the barest of comps from his ivories over Sheppard’s brooding tenor. Colangelo offers fat, lingering Haden-like bass lines perfectly placed behind Haas’s beat. Beasley again offers a penetrating solo that seems to wander leading you in a contorted direction, but somehow getting you back to a satisfying conclusion. He incorporates some Latin  inspired chording intermingles with some classically tinged flourishes for good measure.  When it is Sheppard’s turn to solo, he is appropriately restrained, but subtly builds and releases tension in an almost stealth-like way. Colangelo finishes with a plucky bass solo, setting up the band as they bring the repeating closing refrain to a beautifully executed climax; very satisfying indeed. 

Recorded: Umbrella Music Studio, Chatsworth, CA

Musicians: Chris Colangelo (acoustic bass); John Beasley (piano); Steve Hass (drums) ; Bob Sheppard (tenor on tracks 1, 3 & 9& soprano saxophone track 8); Benn Clatworthy (tenor sax on tracks 2 & 6, flute on track 4); Zane Musa (alto sax on track 8)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review of Denise Donatelli’s “When Lights Are Low”

When Lights Are Low
If there was any doubt about the validity of placing Denise Donatelli in the upper echelon of present day female jazz vocalists, then  
“When Lights Are Low” will surely dispel any such trepidation.

Joined again by the talented Geoff Keezer, who played on and arranged her last album, the impressive
What Lie Within“What Lies Within”, Ms. Donatelli sings with an assured confidence and makes it look easy. Her warm and inviting voice simply lures you in like a Venus flytrap and never lets you go. It is hard to determine if it is Keezer or Donatelli who shrewdly choose material that is so suitable to her voice. It is probably a collaborative effort, but the material is refreshingly varied.

Right from the start, she breaks out with a classic out of the American Songbook, Julie Stynes “It’s You or No One”which is delivered in a swinging yet contemporary way, by the outstanding rhythm section of Keezer, Hamilton Price and Jon Wikan. The polish and tone of Donatelli’s delivery reminds me of a young Nancy Wilson in her prime, a real delight. Wikan and Keezer interchange with a series of jagged retorts. Not to be outdone Donatelli follows them in a staccato scat that is sinewy and precise.

She follows this with a decidedly orchestrated   version of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” that defies any pretense of convention, A wonderfully evocative flugelhorn solo by Ingrid Jensen is a highlight of the production. 

Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low” is sung in a deceptively carefree, almost cavalier way. Donatelli shows off a fearless voice that parries easily off Keezer’s piano and tenorman Ron Blake’s  solo saxophone, never missing a beat or straying off key .

Not to be hamstrung by standards, Donatelli takes a contemporary little gem like Sting’s
“ Big Lie, Small World” and moves us through the potent, introspective lyrics in a sensuously subdued approach over a bossa beat. I am reminded of the understated tone of a storyteller like Michael Franks. Keezer plays his ass off in flurry of Latin inspired crescendos as Wikan and Price drive him to the coda.

The album has an abundance of fine performances that alternate between sensitive ballads to driving swingers. There are no disappointments. Listen to her poignant take on “Why Did I Choose You”, she knows how to bring emotion to a song in way that is not contrived or artificial. On Lorenzo Hart’s “ I Wish I Were in Love Again” the interplay between her voice, Keezer’s piano and Price’s bass is especially tasty. The tight band, including Donatelli, play together like a unified entity instead of  a backing band for a lead vocalist.

The intimate and sensuous Ivan Lins “Cantor Da Noite” features a nice soprano solo by Ron Blake but is otherwise a bit overproduced for my taste.
The playful samba based “The Telephone Song”showcases Donatelli’s vocal flexibility with challenging, quick paced lyrics over Peter Spragues’ breezy guitar and Wikan’s pandeiro.

The album ends with  the bouncy and acrobatic tune by  Cedar Walton , “Enchantment” alternativevly known as  “Firm Roots”, and Donatelli demonstrates a marvelous affinity for the song’s ebullient feel.

With an ever-growing body of fine work, Denise Donatelli is proving she is a true contender for jazz female vocalist of the year.

Recorded: Spragueland Studios, Encinitas, CA 2010

Musicians: Denise Donatelli (vocals); Geofrey Keezer (musical director, arrangements and keyboards); Hamilton Price (bass) Jon Wikan (drums) on all tracks; Peter Sprague (guitar on tracks all tracks except 5 & 8) ;  Ingrid Jensen ( flugelhorn on track 2); Susan Wulff (double bass on track 2 & 7); Giovanna Clayton(cello on track 2 & 7); 
Roland Kato, Alma Lisa Fernandez and Mathew Duckles (violas on track 2& 7); Ron Blake (tenor on tracks 3 & 7); 
Phil O’Connor (bass clarinet on track 4 & 10); Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh (background vocals on tracks 4, 8 & 10)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Birthday Celebration Kenny Garrett’s 50th Birthday Celebration at The Iridium October 9, 2010

At fifty years old, the saxophonist Kenny Garrett has definitively come into his own. Despite forever being associated with Miles Davis, where he spent five years with the iconoclast trumpeter from 1986 through 1991, he is only credited on one Davis album “Amandla” from 1989.  It is time to evaluate the fine saxophonist on his own merits and not on his past associations, no matter how storied they may be. 

On this evening of celebration, Garrett who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday that night at the Iridium, rose to the occasion with a level of maturity and intensity that mesmerized the partisan audience.  Joined by the astute
Nat Reeves on bass, the irascible Benito Gonzalez on piano  the muscular drumming of Ronald Bruner Jr, and the subtle accents of Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato, Garrett went through a repertoire mostly culled from his “Beyond the Wall” cd from 2006. He and his fellow musicians were using this gig as preparation for an upcoming tour of China. 
Beyond the Wall
The atmosphere was expectant as Garrett and company took the stage. They started the set with "Calling” a Coltrane-like homage, reminiscent of the master’s clarion piece “A Love Supreme”. With Gonzalez’ heavy chordal piano work setting the ostinato mode over Reeves repeating bass line and the punishing drumming of Bruner, Garrett gave us a glimpse of what it might have been like to have watched Coltrane in one of his seminal, trance-like explorational sessions. Garrett’s searing alto builds to ever increasing intensity, over the steady rhythmic background. The bell of his horn pours out an explosion of cascading notes, delivered at a frenzied pace, each note clearly articulated. He has mastered the idiom. 
On “Beyond the Wall” we are treated to a hard bop, carpeting vamp from pianist Gonzalez, who is clearly from the lineage of  McCoy Tyner.  Nat Reeves is a pleasure to watch. He plays his upright bass at a frenzied pace with an almost straight-jacketed posture. All the while he has a joyful composure, as his fingers move up and down the fret board with astonishing speed and nimbleness, while the beads of sweat pour down his face. The sun glassed Bruner plays with such pounding intensity you think he is going to put one of his sticks right through the skins of his drum set. His attack is probably the hardest I have ever witnessed and a bit more than I think is required, but there is no doubt that he drives Garrett to new heights with his hard driving intensity. Mr. Garrett, as Howard Mandel once wrote for Downbeat, is a "righteously devoted musician working toward a purpose somewhat higher than mere entertainment,". I witnessed the trance-like state he achieved during one of his solos where he played his alto in a Middle Eastern motif that was absolutely hypnotic.  

When soloing Mr. Garrett rocks back and forth with his horn in a manner that looks and feels like the motion often exhibited by religious zealots as they reach a state of enlightened euphoria. It is this quest to achieve enlightenment through his music that earmarks his music, much as it did Mr.Coltrane’s before him.  He can wail with an earnest purity in the higher registers, with the influence of Pharoah Sanders, another galactic traveler, most apparent.

Despite these powerful influences, Garrett has expanded his musical vision well beyond these, his formidable predecessors. He has incorporated elements of soul, funk and hip-hop into his repertoire with no preconceived notion as to their hierarchical value. His ending rap on a vamp based on Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”, showcased some piano work by hip-hop producer Carlos McKinney and offered Mr. Bruner a chance to show off his funky side.

About midway through the first set Mr. Garrett introduced Wang Guowei, who is a master of the two-stringed Chinese instrument the erhu.  

 On “Tsunami”, a delicate ballad that mixes Americana influences with Asian sounds, Mr. Garrett went to the piano and Nathan Webb took over the drum kit. The ehru emits a sorrowful sound that is strangely emotive and under the skilled hands of Mr. Guowei it was like being transported to an intimate venue in mainland China. Mr. Webb’s skillful and delicate touch was in perfect harmony with this sensitive music. Garrett’s skill at composing such a unique piece of music with its’ Asian influence bespeaks highly of the many facets of this talented musician. 

The saxophonist did a marvelous duet with the gospel pianist John Mercier on the classic from the Billie Holiday songbook,  “ We’ll Be Together Again”. Mr. Garrett has a firm understanding of the tradition of this music and in this most beautiful rendition he evoked the tonal elegance of Johnny Hodges, as Mr. Mercier gently accompanied unobtrusively behind him.  On the second set, Garrett was joined by the pianist Mulgrew Miller for this song> D driven by the more exploratory Mr. Mulgrew, Mr. Garrett’s horn took on a more searching less honeyed tone. The two pianists, Mr. Gonsalez and Mr. Mercier, watched in awe from the sidelines, as Mr. Mulgrew’s worked his magic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Rio Calls Try Morello and Barth's latest "Fim De Semana Em Eldorado"

Review of Morello &  Barth’s  “Fim De Semana Em Eldorado”

CD: Morello and  Barth
Fim De Semana Em EldoradoIn and Out Records  IO-77055-2
Guitarist Paulo Morello and saxophonist Kim Barth , both residents of Germany, decided to visit Brazil in 2001 to absorb the music of Brazil first hand. They did so in a way that allowed them more than a passing visitor’s perspective. They embedded themselves into the real life sounds and rhythms of Rio. They befriended local Carioca musicians and absorbed the MPB (Musica Popular Braslieira or post bossa nova , urban music of Brazil) scene, jamming with locals while living a few houses from the former home of Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim. Breathing in the sights and pulse that at one time influenced the master, their goal was to seamlessly meld authentic Brazilian bossa rhythm’s with jazz improvisation. By all accounts they exceeded all expectations. The two accomplished musicians were able to produce a remarkably entertaining album of fourteen songs, a mix of samba, ballads, disco-carnaval and  bossa with some bop thrown in for good measure.
Barth’s saxophone is sonorous and clean and his flute is lithe and ebullient. Morello is adept at a variety of styles from traditional Brazilian acoustic, ala Baden Powell to more jazz-like creations with octave playing in the Wes Montgomery vein.

The quixotic "Pe Quebrado" with the sprite pifano flute playing of Jorge Continentino is magical and one of my favorite songs on this album.
 The two pulled off an additional coupe of sorts by getting Brazilian vocal legends Johnny Alf and Alaide Costa to lend their authenticity to  
“O Que e Amar” and “Chora Tua Tristeza”. Johnny’s moving vocal on his own “Fim De Semma Em Eldorado” transports you swaying to sun drenched Rio.It is especially poignant to hear Johnny sing on this album, as the eighty year old passed away just this past March. Adaide’s quivering vocal on Jobim’s “Outra Vez” is the epitome of Carioca music at its best. Barth’s flute rings true throughout.

The sensitive “Balad Pra J.” features a stirringly facile guitar introduction by Morello and a beautiful piano solo by Jermaine Landsberger. Smooth jazz fans will find  the pleasurable"Songuito" easy listening, with nice octave work by Morello at the coda. 

Morello and Barth, along with their accomplished  sidemen, many who have played with the likes of Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil and other notables, makes this a special collection of truly inspired and entertaining music for anyone who appreciates true Brazilian music.

Musicians: Kim Barth (alto saxophone , flute); Paulo Morello ( electric and acoustic guitars, cavaquinho on track s 7 & 11); Lucio Nascimento (bass); Adriano Oliveira ( drums on  tracks 1,3,5,8,10, 13 & 14)  ; Fernando Pereira (drums on (drums on tracks 2, 4, 6,9, 11& 12 );  Reginaldo Vargas (percussion); Jermaine Landsberger (piano on track 8); Kiko Continentino (bass on tracks 7 & 11); Caca Colon (drums on tracks 7 & 11); Wolfgang “Lobinho” Stadler ( additional bass on track 11 );Jorge Continentino ( pifano flute on track 7). Special Guest Vocals Johnny Alf and Alaide Costa on tracks 3, 6,9 & 12.)

Recorded: Castello Studios, Rio De Janerio, Brazil November 2001

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review :The Steve Morse Band "Live" at the Iridium October 2, 2010

A line stretching down the street had already formed two hours before  the first show, scheduled for an eight thirty start. The excitement of the obviously partisan crowd was palpable. They had come from near and far, some bringing their young children, to see and hear their guitar god, Steve Morse,  play in the intimate surroundings of the Iridium Jazz club.                                                          

Since the passing of the legendary guitarist Les Paul back in August of last year, the club has become a mecca of sorts for guitar players. They come to pay homage at the shrine that The Iridium owner Ron Sturm has built to the former icon in residence, Mr. Paul. Players come to sit in Les’ place with his old working trio of guitarist Lou Pallo, pianist John Colianni and bassist Nicki Parrott, for special Monday night performances that carry on the tradition that Mr. Paul started here and carried on for thirteen years since 1996. Guitarists from all genres including Larry Coryell,  
Pat Martino, Mike Stern , Larry Carlton, Steve Miller and Jeff Beck have all been featured here playing in Les’s imaginary chair.

Add to this list the enigmatic guitarist Steve Morse who was featured this Friday, Saturday and Sunday with his trio of bassist Dave La Rue and drummer Dru Betts, and will be playing with the Les Paul trio this Monday night. There is no questioning Mr. Morse's virtuosity. He was voted best overall guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine for five consecutive years before his name was retired to its venerable “Gallery of Greats” . He was a founding member of the fusion rock group The Dixie Dreggs, was a short lived member of the rock group Kansas and ultimately became the permanent replacement guitarist for Deep Purple when founding member, Ritchie Blackmore left the band in 1993.

His music is not easily pigeonholed. He plays a myriad of styles that span the genres of rock, heavy metal, fusion, funk  and rock-a-billy, with touches of baroque classicism creeping into his repertoire for good measure.and he is also a prolific composer.
Out Standing In Their Field 
On Saturday night his set started off with two songs from his 2009 release “Out Standing In Their Field”.The fast and hard driving “Name Dropping", the softer, more contemplative “Here and Now and Then”and later in the set  the kick-ass, rock-a-billy drive of “John Deere Letter”, all from the latest album. Therein lies Morse's amazing diversity. His playing blurs the spectrum from raucous heavy metal, to sensitive tonal ballad, to fiery flat-picking, hoe-down music, all while retaining fidelity to each style. Morse plays a Music Man custom Steve Morse signature solid body guitar of his own design. He has an array of foot actuated electronic devices that he skillfully employs to vary the sound of his instrument to suit his need. His skill at bending, sustaining and synthesizing his guitar sounds is formidable. He can also rip through double picked arpeggios at blazing speed. He has a penchant for weaving touch harmonics skillfully into the body of his songs, as he did on several occasions during this performance.

Mr. Morse and Mr. La Rue are old playmates, and their joyful interaction on stage is genuine, making for good performance art. The use of a fan prop to blow Mr. Morse’s shoulder length blond hair as he shreds his guitar, however, was a bit affected.  Mr. La Rue demonstrated his own facility on his fretted electric bass, whether soloing or trading note for note with Mr. Morse on a series of gunslinger-like duels. The drummer Mr. Betts (no relation to the Allman Brothers guitarist), was a newcomer for this gig and he held his own admirably on most numbers. The two old hands pushed him through the paces of the mostly high energy set.

High Tension WiresMy personal favorite of the evening was the gentle, Celtic inspired “Highland Wedding”, from his 1990 “High Tension Wires” cd , where he adapts his guitar sound so well to the sentiment of the song that it carries you to a place where you almost could smell the peat and taste the Guinness.

As if he hadn’t already shown enough diversity, Mr. Morse switched guitars to an acoustical semi-hollowed body electric for a delicate duet with Mr. La Rue on his classically inspired “ Baroque n’ Dreams”.  

StressfestOn the dynamic “Rising Power”, from his “Stressfest” release from 1996, Mr. Morse pulled out all stops. He uses multiple effects and considerable technique through the ever-elevating progression, while La Rue and Betts maintain the relentlessly driving beat.  He finished the set powerfully with “Cruise Missile” and encored with “Cruise Control” to rousing ovations.

What became apparent, as I spanned the room watching the mesmerized faces of his adoring audience, was that Mr.Morse has built himself a truly passionate fan base who truly view him as a guitar god. Watching his diverse style and considerable virtuosity, I found myself realizing he deserved their adulation. One fellow patron had traveled all the way from Santa Barbara, California just to see Morse play in this most intimate of settings. He and a fellow fan from New Jersey had been there for two sets on both Friday and Saturday nights. They weren’t alone in their fanaticism, as Morse acknowledged many returning fans from the previous shows. Mr. Morse will be playing at the Iridium through Monday October 4, 2010. Catch him there and maybe he will make you a believer.

Musicians: Steve Morris (guitars and effects) ; Dave La Rue (electric bass), Dru Betts(drums).