Jazz Prospecting: February 2013

Eric Alexander: Touching (2012 [2013], High Note): Tenor saxophonist, big mainstream guy, put out an album called Solid! in 1998 and an even better one called Dead Center in 2004, and only rarely misses the mark. All standards here, counting Coltrane. Tends to go soft and woozy this time, but Harold Mabern connects with soulful piano, and John Webber and Joe Farnsworth do their usual fine job. B+(**)

Barry Altschul: The 3Dom Factor (2012 [2013], TUM): Drummer, b. 1943, joined Paul Bley's trio in 1965; c. 1970 played with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Anthony Braxton in and out of Circle -- Holland's Conference of the Birds was the era's masterpiece; his discography thins out in the 1980s although he's popped up a few times recently: in the FAB Trio with Joe Fonda and Billy Bang; on Sam Rivers' Reunion with Holland; as "special guest" on Jon Irabagon's Foxy. I think this is his first headline album since 1986, but it's basically the flip side of Foxy, a sax trio with Irabagon and Fonda, with nine of his originals (plus one from Carla Bley). Not as fun as Foxy or as flamboyant as Irabagon is on Slippery Rock -- 2013's early best-of-year favorite -- but superb nonetheless, with plenty of reason to focus on the drummer. (Note to self: put "Natal Chart" on next year's mixtape.) A-

Bob Arthurs/Steve Lamattina: Jazz for Svetlana (2012, self-released): Trumpet/guitar duets: two Arthurs originals, standards, some Dizzy Gillespie. Both musicians have thin discographies, get by on teaching (Arthurs 1972-2005 at Music Conservatory of Westchester; Lamattina same joint since 1980). Arthurs sings "All of Me" and "I Thought About You" -- reminds me a bit of Jack Sheldon, winging it on charm. B+(**)

Hashem Assadullahi: Pieces (2012 [2013], OA2): Saxophonist -- credited with plural but photographed with tenor -- based in New York; second album, a sextet with Ron Miles on trumpet, both guitar and piano, plus bass and drums. Postbop, a bit on the slick side with no rough edges, goes down easy. B+(*)

Augi: Citizens of the World (2012, Diapson West): Dwayne Augustine, from Los Angeles, prime instrument is probably electric bass but also plays upright, guitar, keyboards, congas, bongos, djembe, other percussion, programs his drum tracks, and sings. First album, mostly his own affair but he draws on another dozen musicians mostly for a bit of a track here or there -- some horns, electric piano solos, backing vocals, percussion. Eclectic world grooves and good vibes. B+(*)

Cecily Kate: Standards (2012, self-released): Singer, full name Cecily Kate Horner, from Wellington, NZ; studied at Indiana, moved to New York, has worked with the New York Grand Opera and both off and on Broadway. First album, backed by piano-bass-trumpet. Put some effort into a credible "My Funny Valentine," but her little girl voice undermines "Let's Do It"; you'd think "Stupid Cupid" and "Where the Boys Are" might be more age-appropriate, but then she turns on the opera. B-

Jaiman Crunk: Encounters (2012, Origin): Guitarist, originally from San Francisco; moved to Europe, then to Seattle. First record, shuffles as many guests in as possible -- e.g., one bassist per tune, and no, Ron Carter didn't miss out -- but only one pianist (Bill Anschell, on 2 of 8 tunes). Three cuts have orchestral back up, and a fourth isolates the ickiness to the strings. One more cut has vocals -- Take 6, pretty awful. Aside from those faux pas, pretty pleasant. B-

Ori Dagan: Less Than Three (2012, Scat Cat): Canadian crooner, second album, some standards ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "Strangers in the Night"), some contenders ("Your Song," "Lucky Star"), a couple of originals ("Googleable": "Google anywhere/even in your underwear"), something in Hebrew. Voice is almost throwaway, and despite his fondness for scat, he can't make it fly. C+

Eric DiVito: Breaking the Ice (2011 [2012], Pioneer Jazz Collection): Guitarist, from Long Island, based in New York. First album, uses acoustic and electric bassists, layering the guitar on for groove pieces and ballads, occasionally roughed up by Jake Saslow's sax. B+(*)

Elina Duni Quartet: Matanë Malit (2012, ECM): Singer, b. 1981 in Albania, left when she was 10 but returns through this mostly trad. songbook. Second album, this one backed by Colin Vallon's piano trio, providing understated but more than competent support, without traditional instruments or oriental sonorities. This puts all the focus on Duni's voice, dark and torchy, sombre or smoldering. B+(***) [advance]

Yelena Eckemoff Trio: Glass Song (2012 [2013], Yelena Music): Pianist, originally from Moscow, USSR; moved to US in 1991; started in classical but lately moved into jazz with a steady stream of tasteful, erudite albums. Partners this time are Arild Andersen on bass and Peter Erskine on drums, but they never challenge the primacy of the piano. B+(**)

Fado Em Si Bemol: QB (2012, Vidisco): Portuguese group, third album since 2007, the fact that "Fado" is written so much larger and "qb" so illegibly has caused some confusion (e.g., over at AMG). Pedro Matos sings, two guitars (one listed as guitarra portuguesa), bass, and drums. B+(*)

Doug Ferony: You Will Be My Music (2011 [2012], self-released): Sinatra imitator (not that he really has the chops), sometime actor, b. 1958, has nine albums since 1996, this one with the usual big band arrangements. At best ("Fly Me to the Moon," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm") the songs are so magnificent I can't nitpick. B

Mimi Fox: Standards, Old & New (2012 [2013], Origin): Guitarist, b. 1956, eight (or so) records since 1987, third solo album including a previous Standards from 2001. Spare but inventive, something that hangs off the familiarity of the songs, which lean toward folk but include Wes Montgomery. B+(*)

Inbar Fridman: Time Quartet Project (2011 [2013], Origin): Israeli guitarist, first album, backed by what I understand to be a French piano trio: Camelia Ben Naceur (piano), Laurent Chavoit (bass), Stefano Lucchini (drums). Ben Naceur and Fridman wrote three originals each, providing an interesting balance between the two instruments. B+(*)

José García: Songs for a Lifetime: Live (2012, self-released): Standards crooner, also plays guitar, from Mexico, cut this live at the New York Club, Palm Desert, CA, no date given. AMG credits him with two previous albums. Backed by Carlos Rodgarman's piano trio. Opens with two Cole Porters separated by "The Shadow of Your Smile." Not really a natural, but only overstrains when he tries to slip in something Latin ("Besame Mucho"). B

Maximilian Geller: Alpenglühen (2011 [2013], Ozella): Soprano/alto saxophonist, b. 1964 in Basel, Switzerland; based in Munich, Germany; has close to a dozen albums since 1993, some based on classical music (Mozart 06 Lacrimosa), some polka (Die Polka-Krise). Here the sax works off a folkie vibe coming from Herbert Pixner's diatonic accordion, with piano-bass-drums-percussion, added trumpet on three tracks, Lisa Wahlandt vocals on two. B+(*)

Brad Goode: Chicago Red (2012 [2013], Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1963, has worked in avant-garde and mainstream settings (his first album was called Shock of the New, not that it really was), has close to 10 albums since 1988. Here he picks up an electric rhythm section (with a bassist from Brazil and a drummer from Ghana), slips in some darbouka and sitar, and uses "St. Louis Blues" as the intro to his title song. B+(**)

Benny Green: Magic Beans (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, long list of records since 1990; all originals including titles like "Kenny Drew," "Jackie McLean," and "Harold Land." Superb mainstream rhythm section -- Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums -- keeps this flowing. B+(**)

David Greenberger/Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound: They Like Me Around Here (2012 [2013], Pel Pel): Spoken word, the words collected from interviews with old folks in nursing homes -- at some point in all of Greenberger's albums I belatedly realize that his homogenized voice is channeling a much more varied group of people, usually when one of those people has to be female. A year and a few months ago Greenberger released four albums with different musicians. I found they all sort of flowed into each other, but the consensus pick -- Christgau and Tatum, anyway -- was the one with Paul Cebar (and Mark Greenberg). This time there's just one, with Cebar taking charge, his music varied, inventive, sometimes exotic -- tasteful horn charts, lots of percussion, field recordings. A-

Scott Healy Ensemble: Hudson City Suite (2012, Hudson City): Pianist, from Cleveland, based in Los Angeles, has (had?) a regular gig with Conan O'Brien. Looks like he has three 2012 releases, but I don't see anything earlier. This is nominally an 11-piece group although the personnel shifts from cut to cut, rich in horns with Tim Hagans' solo spots standing out, Kim Richmond and Doug Webb in the reeds, and bass trombone on every cut. B+(*)

Scott Healy-Glenn Alexander Quartet: Northern Light (1991 [2012], Hudson City): Old live 2-track tape, runs 38:34. Healy plays synths as well as piano, Alexander guitar (three albums 1987-96), with Kermit Driscoll on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. The fusion impulses are forgettable, but the more conventional acoustic piano is more pleasant. B

Pamela Hines: 3.2.1 (2012 [2013], Spicerack): Pianist, has at least eight albums since 1998. This is a trio with David Clark on bass and Yoron Israel on drums. Leads off with two Bill Evans songs, but plays them upbeat, saving the soft landing for the final solo piece. B+(*)

Eric Hofbauer: American Grace (2012 [2013], Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, b. 1974 in Rochester, NY; plays in the Blueprint Project and has a half-dozen albums under his own name. This is solo, the third leg of a roots trilogy that started with American Vanity and American Fear. Offhand, seems like a Bill Frisell move, but Hofbauer's Americana is crude, rough, gnarly, nothing to get sentimental about. B+(*)

Iron Dog: Interactive Album Rock (2012, self-released): Sarah Bernstein writes poems/texts, recites them through some kind of electronic processor, same for her violin. Second album as Iron Dog with Stuart Popejoy on bass/synth and Andrew Drury on drums -- first was a 2011 release called Field Recordings Vol. 1 dating from 2005-06 -- plus one album under her own name (Unearthish, worth checking out). This has an industrial tone but is more/less improvised. B+(***)

Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra: Bloom (2011 [2013], 19/8): From Japan, moved to New York in 2005 and rounded up this crackling 18-piece big band, for which she is composer, arranger, conductor -- after guitar-bass-piano (acoustic and electric) the 18th "piece" is vocalist Sara Serpa. Fine textures and intriguing details, some strong reeds. Wonder whether this will attract the attention Maria Schneider enjoys, but I'm evidently unfit to tell. B+(***)

Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes (2010-12 [2013], Jazz From Rant): Drummer, from Quebec, has played with François Carrier for well over a decade, also in a group called Maïkotron Unit. This is a piano trio, with Alexandre Grogg on piano and Guillaume Bouchard on bass. The 67:19 recording comprises 92 "episodes," some as short as seven seconds, the median most likely in the twenties, a couple venturing past three minutes, one clocking in at 5:54. Aside from some clash near the beginning, they flow neatly enough to be taken as a whole, as indeed most days do. B+(***)

Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran: Hagar's Song (2012 [2013], ECM): Duo, the venerable saxophonist and one of the most accomplished young pianists of the last decade -- some of those feats coming in Lloyd's Quartet, so this isn't a stab at an odd pairing. No bass or drums lets Lloyd take his time, especially delighting in melodies like "Mood Indigo" and "God Only Knows." Some flute, but it fits right in. A-

Sandra Marlowe: True Blue (2011 [2012], LoveDog!): Standards singer, b. in North Dakota, based in San Francisco area 20 years. First album as far as I can tell, backed by Larry Dunlap on piano and John Shifflett on bass, with scattered but rarely notable horns. B-

Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (2012 [2013], Amulet): Drummer, best known as the middleman in Medeski, Martin & Wood; has released a large pile of specialist albums, but nothing like this before. Here he's lined up a small brass band -- Steven Bernstein (trumpet, slide trumpet), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Marcus Rojas (tuba) -- and gone back to New Orleans, at least for King Oliver's "Sugarfoot Stomp" although they jump off with a Frank London piece called "Chumba Zumba," and never settle into anything obvious or derivative. Bernstein does most of the arranging, and Rojas takes most of the leads. And lest you think that I think every vocal incursion is a waste, check out Shelley Hirsch's song about hobbling through an Occupy Wall Street march as one of the "99%." A

Chris McNulty: The Song That Sings You Here (2012, Challenge): Standards singer/sometime songwriter (wrote 2 of 10 here), b. 1953 in Australia, based in New York since 1988, has a half dozen albums since 1990. Has a real presence on the slow ones, and a fine band including Paul Bollenback on guitar and Igor Butman on tenor and soprano sax -- underused on the second half after he takes a big solo early on. B+(**)

Sean Moran Small Elephant Band: Tusk (2011 [2013], NCM East): Guitarist, prefers nylon strings, based in Brooklyn, first album mostly under his own name although he has several as the Four Bags, and has appeared with Michael McGinnis, who plays clarinet and bass clarinet here and occasionally takes charge. Otherwise, the soft guitar is accented with Chris Dingman's vibes, and the Reuben Radding-Haris Eisenstadt rhythm section is plenty shifty. B+(**)

Sean Nowell: The Kung-Fu Masters (2012 [2013], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1973 in Birmingham, AL; studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music; fourth album since 2006. Takes a jazz-funk turn here, with trumpet, trombone, both keybs and organ, electric bass, and drums. B+(*)

Bennett Paster: Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful (2011 [2013], self-released): Pianist, b. 1970 in Washington, DC; grew up in New Mexico, moving to Boston in 1988; studied at Tufts and NEC. Has a handful of albums sine 2001, a couple Latin-themed as Grupo Yanqui. This is more typical postbop, with Alex Pope Norris on trumpet/flugelhorn and either Joel Frahm or Tim Armacost on tenor (or soprano) sax. B+(*)

Jeremy Pelt: Water and Earth (2012 [2013], High Note): Trumpet player, regarded as a rising star a few years ago and certainly qualifies as an established force now, with nearly a dozen albums since 2002. Still, this is a very unadventurous groove album, with loads of Fender Rhodes and Roxy Coss as the complementary saxophonist. Includes a vocal cut -- semi-obligatory for smooth jazz albums looking for a radio slot, here too, probably for the same reason. B

Dan Phillips BKK Trio: Bangkok Edge (2012, self-released): Guitarist, don't have much on him but evidently not his first album. Half trio with bass and drums; half adds tenor saxophonist Jakob Dinesen. Long, tight, metallic lines, warmed up a bit by the sax. B+(**)

Verneri Pohjola & Black Motor: Rubidium (2010 [2013], TUM): Trumpeter, b. 1977 in Helsinki, Finland. Seems to have released quite a bit since 2007 but I haven't found a clear discography. This is a quartet, with Sami Sipola on tenor/soprano sax, plus bass and drums. The horns clash and squirm, the sax making a bit more of an impression, and the rhythm is dense and varied. B+(**)

Chris Potter: The Sirens (2012 [2013], ECM): The quintessential postbop tenor saxophonist for twenty-some years now, after which he's still only 42, he can blow you away, but rarely does. His "first ECM record" is a frothy little thing propped up with riches -- for example, he couldn't decide between pianists Craig Taborn and David Virelles so went with both. B+(***)

Enrico Rava: On the Dance Floor (2011 [2013], ECM): Italian trumpet player, b. 1939, started on the avant side and wound up, well, here, doing a tribute of sorts to Michael Jackson, live at Auditorium Parco della Musica of Rome with an 11-piece (counting Rava makes 12) group called Parco della Musica Jazz Lab. All Jackson songs (except for "Thriller" and "Smile"), not that they're all that obvious. Lots of brass plus keyb and guitar, and a beat that's not beyond slipping some flamenco into the disco. B+(**) [advance]

Jussi Reijonen: Un (2011 [2013], self-released): Guitarist, b. in northern Finland, based in Boston, first album. Also plays fretless guitar and oud, dabbling in various world musics -- Arabic, Malian, something like tango. B+(*)

Ellen Robinson: Don't Wait Too Long (2011 [2012], EMR Music): Singer, San Francisco Bay Area (this was live at Freight & Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley); third album; wrote 3 (of 12) songs, covers tend to be later show tunes with "Our Day Will Come" -- the one song she projects most clearly -- her answer to Prop. 8. With Murray Low's piano trio spiced up with Kristen Strom's saxes. B

Barry Romberg's Random Access: Crab People (2012, Romhog, 2CD): Drummer, b. 1959 in Canada; has generally numbered his Random Access releases, which date back at least to 1999, with this one Part 12. Tends toward fusion -- electric guitar, bass, keybs -- but the horns won't settle for smooth and Ravi Naimpally's tabla and frame drum break fresh ground. B+(*)

Seung-Hee: Sketches on the Sky (2012, self-released): Vocalist, b. in South Korea, studied at Berklee, based in New York. Second album, mostly originals, lyrics added to Charlie Haden and Bill Evans, Sting and Stevie Wonder for standards, most of the vocals in Korean. Exceptional support from the rhythm section -- Frank LoCastro, Ike Sturm, and George Schuller -- and especially from tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker. B+(**)

Matthew Shipp: Greatest Hits (2000-2012 [2013], Thirsty Ear): Before 2000 Shipp had established himself as one of the avant-garde's most rigorous pianists through a series of often startling duo and trio albums -- mostly duos. Most were on the usual obscure European labels, but a couple -- ranging from the tedious 2-Z with Roscoe Mitchell to the superb Zo with bassist William Parker -- came out on a postrock label in Connecticut. Thirsty Ear wound up hiring Shipp to curate "The Blue Series": think of them as postrock crossovers made by Shipp's avant chums plus a few secretly admiring DJs. Early on, the series tracked public interest in "jazztronica" -- but unlike the previous decade's "acid jazz" fad or the later dabblings of more-or-less mainstream figures ranging from Nicholas Payton to Dave Douglas -- Shipp's series never felt like a compromise. But later on, Shipp seemed to grow weary of the electronics and tried to reassert himself as an acoustic jazz pianist (especially on the solos One and 4D and the mixed solo-trio Art of the Improviser). Of course, nothing he did was a "hit" in the pop sense, but these dozen cuts from eleven albums both hit the high points and drive home the primacy of his piano. A-

Ilia Skibinsky: The Passage (2011 [2013], Mythology): Alto saxophonist (also soprano), originally from Russia, immigrated to Israel in 1993, moved to New York in 2007 to study at New School. First album, half with piano trio (Glen Zaleski, Edward Perez, Colin Stranahan), adding trumpet-tenor sax on three cuts, guitar (Mike Moreno) on three, strings on one. B+(**)

Joey Stuckey: Mixture (2012, Senate): Guitarist, from Macon, GA. Has a couple previous albums. Blind usually spells blues, but he cites Jeff Beck and Wes Montgomery as influences, and Tom Rule's keybs/drum programming leans toward smooth jazz. B

Milton Suggs: Lyrical: Volume 1 (2011 [2012], Skiptone Music): Singer, b. 1983; second album. Has a bit of the church in his voice; bio lists eight singers from Armstrong to Gaye as influences, but I don't hear any of them -- I might buy Jon Hendricks trying to do Luther Vandross (or vice versa). B-

Thiefs (2012 [2013], Melanine Harmonique): Guillermo E. Brown (drums, vocals), Christophe Panzani (sax), Keith Witty (bass), all co-credited with electronics, with extra keybs on three cuts and accordion on one. First album, following a 3-track EP on bandcamp. Instrumental pieces offer steady sax over jangling rhythm, interesting enough. Brown's vocals are weak and unsteady, breaking the flow. B+(*) [advance]

Allen Vizzutti: Ritzville (2011 [2012], Village Place Music): Trumpet player, b. 1952 in Montana, passed through Los Angeles where he did quite a bit of soundtrack work, wrote books on trumpet technique, wound up in Seattle; has a handful of albums since 1982, co-credits with Chick Corea, who returns the favor here, as does Stanley Clarke. First cut flows strong, second backs off, a conflict never resolved, ending with one of those postbop vocals I never see the point of. B

David Weiss & Point of Departure: Venture Inward (2008 [2013], Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, has a handful of albums since 2001, more with New Jazz Composers Octet. Postbop, although the only thing "post-" here is that his hard bop quintet uses guitar (Nir Felder) instead of piano. J.D. Allen plays tenor sax, Luques Curtis bass, Jamire Williams drums. Two songs each from Andrew Hill and Charles Moore; one each from Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams. In a blindfold test I'd probably say Lee Morgan -- just not one of his better ones. B+(*)

Carrie Wicks: Barely There (2012, OA2): Singer-songwriter, originally from New Jersey, wound up in Seattle; second album; four covers (Townes Van Zandt, Pee Wee King, Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein II), nine originals co-credited to Ken Nottingham (not in the band). Band includes label regulars Bill Anschell and Jeff Johnson; one cut features accordion, and Hans Teuber consistently adds tasty clarinet and tenor sax. She has a sly voice which grows on you, and the closing standards drive home the intrinsic musicality. B+(***)

Neil C. Young: El Camino (2011 [2012], Canadian American): Guitarist (trio adds bass and drums), b. 1973, has at least one previous album. No idea where he came from or how he got here. Sounds more like John Scofield than Neil Young. B+(*)

From Rhapsody Streamnotes

Patricia Barber: Smash (2012 [2013], Concord Jazz): Jazz singer, plays her own piano, came up with a cool take on the standards but wrote all her own here and stretches them out as if the singer isn't the focus -- but the songs seem to demand that, so after two (or is it three?) plays all I am is confused. B

Erin Boheme: What a Life (2012 [2013], Heads Up): Nominally a jazz singer, writes some and doesn't go in for standards. Cut her first album in 2005 as a teenager and comes back here much more mature, backed by guitar/keyb/bass/drums and sometimes strings. Has an appealing voice and poise but no niche. B+(*)

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: The Jazz Age (2012 [2013], BMG/Relativity): No vocals, so banish the thought of the Roxy Music majordomo channeling Billy Banks or Ted Lewis. The band most likely consists of English trad jazz vets -- Alan Barnes is the only name that I recognized and he is, of course, essential -- while the songs have been radically rearranged from Ferry's Roxy songbook. Even so, the only one I figured out first time through was "Virginia Plain" and that neither amused nor thrilled me, which leaves us with what? B

Joe Lovano Us Five: Cross Culture (2012 [2013], Blue Note): Traditional sax-piano-bass-drums quartet upgraded for the modern era by doubling up the drummers -- Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela -- but what distinguishes the third group album is how much weight the leader carries: one of the great tenor saxmen of the last thirty years, in fine form here. A-

Wayne Shorter Quartet: Without a Net (2011 [2013], Blue Note): After twenty years of making lousy records, Shorter put a first-rate young quartet together in 2001 and became interesting again: Danilo Pérez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums). He's kept the group going for a decade, and nearing eighty he recycles tunes on this tough and searching live set. Includes a 23-minute piece with the Imani Winds complicating things. Gets stronger at the end with two group titles. B+(**)

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