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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                    April 2017
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Kei Akagi Trio
Contrast & Form
(Time & Style Jazz)
      
Kei Akagi is a very inventive pianist who always plays and records stimulating music. In his career he worked for
seven years with Airto and Flora Purim, nine with Stanley Turrentine, had associations with Jean-Luc Ponty, Allan
Holdsworth, James Newton and Al DiMeola, and was a member of Miles Davis’s last group. He also led at least 13 CDs
prior to the new one.
      
Contrast & Form features Akagi with the trio that he has had since 2000 which also includes bassist Shunya Wakai
and drummer Tamaya Honda. They perform nine of the pianist’s originals plus Wayne Shorter’s “Limbo” and nearly
all of the pieces on the CD are first takes. Akagi often contributes fairly simple themes but with unlimited potential
for growth and development.
      
The pieces include the distinguished and stately theme “In The Fold,” a repetitive and playful childlike melody
(“Playground – The Dog And The Snake) that builds and builds, two songs in different time signatures (“Simply Five”
and “Count Nine”) and the three-part “Contrast & Form.” The latter has a brief solo piano section, the rhythmic “Part
2” and a fiery “Part 3” which includes a drum solo a bit reminiscent of Elvin Jones in its use of polyrhythms.
      
Throughout Contrast & Form, the musicians form a tight trio that often seems to think as one. While there are some
brief touches of early Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner in spots, Kei Akagi’s playing is distinctive and quite original.
The result is a high-quality set of creative and thought-provoking post-bop jazz. Contrast & Form, which is easily
recommended, is available from www.cdbaby.com.


Oleg Frish
Duets With My American Idols
(Time Out Media)
      
Oleg Frish appears frequently as a host on radio and television in the New York area. Born in Russia and a long-time
lover of the Great American Songbook, Frish is also a personable singer with an appealing voice and a smile in his
sound.
      
On this CD, Oleg Frish is featured on one vocal duet apiece with Gary U.S. Bonds, Peggy Marsh, Ben E. King, B.J.
Thomas, Chris Montez, Lainie Kazan, Tony Orlando, Melissa Manchester, Lou Christie and Bobby Rydell. While the
other singers are fine, adjusting their styles to fit whatever song they are interpreting, the host is the main star
throughout. The singers are backed by a few overlapping combos that often include John Oddo or Kenneth Asher on
piano, guitarist Bob Mann, George Rabbi on trumpet and saxophonist Lawrence Feldman.
      
Oleg Frish, who also has four solo pieces, is in fine form throughout. He obviously loves the music, his enthusiasm is
infectious, and his singing is full of joy. Whether it is “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “Day By Day,” “Hello
Dolly,” “When You’re Smiling” or the one obscurity “Bagel and Lox,” this is fun set of lively and classic music. It is
available from www.olegfrish.com.


Mary Bogue
Blue Smoke
(Dance Me To Stardust Records)

Mary Bogue
One Night Of Sin
(Dance Me To Stardust Records)
      
A fine jazz/blues singer based in Los Angeles, Mary Bogue has performed frequently during the past decade. She
recently released two EPs that total around 25 minutes apiece, giving listeners a strong sampling of her talents.
      
Blue Smoke has the singer joined by pianist Steve Rawlins, guitarist Grant Geissman, bassist Richard Simon,
drummer Gordon Peeke and occasionally trumpeter Nolan Shaheed. After a swinging “No Moon At All,” Mary Bogue
is featured on a pair of Tom Culver originals: the warm ballad “Blue Smoke” and the Brazilian-flavored “Endlessly.”
She is in particularly excellent form on the sly “Must Be Catchin’” which sounds like a relative in its sentiments to
“Comes Love.” Ms. Bogue concludes the set with the love ballad “My Superman” and a fine version of “In A
Sentimental Mood” which also features Shaheed.
      
While Blue Smoke is enjoyable, One Night Of Sin gets the edge due to its superior material and the occasional
contributions of tenor-saxophonist Rickey Woodard. With pianist Karen Hernandez, bassist Brad Bobo and drummer
Jack Le Compte completing the quartet, Mary Bogue is in bluesy form throughout the date. “Sneaking Around” is a
swinging piece about hiding an affair. Woodard makes his presence felt on the blues ballad “Night Life” and the singer
really digs into the lowdown blues “Rock Me Baby” and the country ballad “One Night Of Sin.” She is in expressive
form on “Don’t Explain,” is in top form on the Linda Hopkins piece “I’m Going To Cry You Right Out” and finishes the
all-too-brief set with “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast.”
      
Mary Bogue has a distinctive and inviting voice and swings at every tempo. Her performances throughout these two
sets makes one want to see her perform live. These EPs are easily recommended and available from www.marybogue.
com.
                                                      

Rebecca Kilgore and Bernd Lhotzky
This And That
(Arbors)
      
For the past couple of decades, Rebecca Kilgore has been one of the finest jazz singers on the scene. She can sing a song
fairly straight, sticking to the lyrics and the melody, and still swing as hard as anyone by perfectly placing her notes.
She also improvises with subtlety, has a very attractive voice, and uplifts every song that she interprets.
      
While she is usually heard with larger groups, Rebecca Kilgore excels on this duet project with pianist Bernd Lhotzky.
The swing-based pianist provides a gentle stride, and on some of the faster numbers he creates hot solos that are also
melodic. Lhotzky’s piano playing is all of the accompaniment that the singer needs.
      
One of the main joys of this set, in addition to hearing the two performers, is that the majority of the 15 vintage
selections are rarely performed today. It is particularly wonderful hearing “I’m Shooting High,” “Flying Down To
Rio,” Duke Ellington’s “Grievin’,” “I Hear The Music Now” and “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart.” In most cases,
Rebecca Kilgore starts off by singing the verse, which tends to be even lesser-known than the chorus. Other highlights
include a pair of Billy Strayhorn ballads (“Lotus Blossom,” “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing”), “Who Cares” and “Sweet
And Lovely.”
      
This And That is a typically excellent Rebecca Kilgore outing and is highly recommended to lovers of the Great
American Songbook. It is available from Arbors (www.arborsrecords.com).


The Jazz Couriers
Live In Morecambe 1959 – Tippin’        
(Gearbox)
      
During 1957-59, the Jazz Couriers was arguably the top British jazz band. Co-led by a pair of great tenor-saxophonists
(Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott) and anchored by a top-notch rhythm section (pianist Terry Shannon, drummer Bill
Eyden and several bassists including Jeff Clyne), the Jazz Couriers played high-energy hard bop. While somewhat
forgotten today, they could hold their own with their American counterparts.
      
Fortunately the Jazz Couriers made several studio albums and were also captured live on a few occasions. This CD
reissues a live Lp that was first put out five years ago by the Gearbox label (www.gearboxrecords.com).
Unfortunately readers need to use a magnifying glass to appreciate the microscopic liner notes. (reprinted at a much
smaller size than on the Lp) or look on their website, but otherwise there are no reservations about this exciting music.
      
The Couriers perform an uptempo version of Horace Silver’s “Tippin,’” a straightforward reading of “For All We
Know,” a feature for Hayes’ vibes on “Embers” and a rapid rendition of “Cherokee.” While the bassist is largely
inaudible on the latter, otherwise the recording quality is excellent for a live set from the era. Tubby Hayes displays
his ability to perfectly articulate every note at the fastest tempos (a skill that he shared with Johnny Griffin and Sal
Nistico), Ronnie Scott puts plenty of personality into his solos, and the friendly competition between the two tenors
result in lots of stirring music.
      
Fans of hard bop and hard-swinging jazz should go out of their way to collect the recordings of the Jazz Couriers
including this excellent CD.
                                                  

David Wise
Till They Lay Me Down
(Self-Released)
      
Tenor and baritone-saxophonist David Wise makes his recording debut as a leader on “Till They Lay Me Down. Born
and raised in Virginia, he graduated from Oberlin College, studied with Gary Bartz, and has appeared on several
recordings since 2907. A resident of Los Angeles, Wise is a member of Bruce Forman’s Cow Bop.
      
Till They Lay Me Down teams the saxophonist with guitarist Forman, bassist Alex Frank, drummer Jake Reed and
several guests. The first number, “What More Could One Man Want,” finds Wise playing colorfully on an r&bish piece
that has vocals by Jason Joseph and Laura Mace. The mood and style shifts with a brief but heartfelt rendition of
“Sylvia”; cellist Mikala Schmitz is an asset on that track. “Here’s That Rainy Day,” one of only two numbers on the
set not composed by the saxophonist, is given a surprising cooking treatment with Wise (on baritone), Forman and
bassist Frank taking fine solos. It certainly casts new light on the song.
      
“Home,” an original that is a bit reminiscent of “I Remember Clifford,” has an excellent ballad statement by Wise on
tenor. He plays some unaccompanied baritone on the mellow “Kol Nidre,” digs into the slow blues “Till They Lay Me
Down,” and duets with Forman on “Lullaby.” The program concludes with the three-part “Life Is But A Song,” a
simple and likable melody on which Wise sings.
      
All in all, this is an impressive debut by a laidback but creative saxophonist. David Wise’s CD is available from www.
davidgwise.com.
                                                      

Carsten Dahl Trio
Simplicity
(Storyville)
      
An excellent jazz pianist, Carsten Dahl was born in Copenhagen 49 years ago. Originally a drummer and a studio
musician by the time he was 14, he switched to piano when he was 21. Dahl was working professionally as a pianist
by the early 1990s. He has since mastered the bebop vocabulary while also developing his own voice. In addition to
Danish musicians, he has also had opportunities to work with drummer Ed Thigpen (who had been one of his early
drum teachers), Joe Lovano, Billy Harper, Dave Liebman, Eddie Gomez, Jerry Bergonzi, Johnny Griffin, and Jim
Snidero among many others.
      
Simplicity is comprised of 16 Dahl originals that he performs in a trio with bassist Lennart Ginman and drummer
Frands Rifbjerg. While the music (ranging from joyous romps to brooding ballads) may at first seem to be straight
ahead bebop that is inspired by Bud Powell, a closer listen reveals that Dahl utilizes his own original chord changes
and chord voicings. The music, while built from the past, is quite modern and filled with unpredictable moments.
The performances are mostly pretty concise and the playing fits such song titles as “A Minor Mood For You,” “Monk’s
Skunk,” “Dark Moments,” “Prelude and Blues,” “Flying Birds,” “Fragility” and “Beautiful.”
      
Simplicity features Carsten Dahl in top form, making it obvious that he is an important jazz artist who Americans
should discover. This CD is available from www.storyvillerecords.com.
                                           

Michel Benebig
Noumea To New York
(American Showplace Music)
      
Many observers love to claim that jazz is “America’s only art form,” a debatable claim that overlooks the fact that
ragtime, the blues, tap dancing, and the movies are four other American art forms. It also greatly underrates the
contributions of non-Americans to jazz’s development. Jazz has been an international music ever since recordings
became widely available in the early 1920s.
      
Michel Benebig, who was born in New Caledonia, is a top-notch jazz organist. While he spent time in his early years
playing classical piano, electric bass and accordion, by 1993 (when he turned 29) he was a fulltime jazz organist. He
has toured internationally, visited the United States many times, and utilized American musicians on some of his
sessions.
      
Noumea To New York has Benebig leading a quartet also featuring guitarist Carl Lockett, drummer Lewis Nash, and
the great tenor-saxophonist Houston Person. Whenever Person appears on a recording, it is a strong clue that the
music is special and that is certainly true of Noumea To New York. While performing mostly original material,
Michel Benebig shows that he is a master of blues, ballads and swinging originals. Although he is clearly inspired by
the earlier jazz organists and his mentor Rhoda Scott, Benebig has his own sound and approach to playing hard bop
and soul jazz.

Guitarist Lockett contributes some excellent solos, Nash keeps the music tight and swinging, and Person (with his
huge tone) is in typically soulful form, Noumes To New York (available from www.amazon.com) is a must for fans of
the jazz organ. Michel Benebig deserves to be much better known in the U.S.
                                                      

The Mark Masters Ensemble
Blue Skylight
(Capri)
      
A very skilled arranger and head of the American Jazz Institute, Mark Masters previously had recorded projects of
the music of Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Porgy & Bess, Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, Duke Ellington’s
saxophonists, and Steely Dan. Blue Skylight is a bit unusual in that it alternates between songs composed by Charles
Mingus and Gerry Mulligan.
      
The five Mingus pieces feature a septet comprised of trumpeter Ron Stout, trombonist Les Benedict, altoist Gary
Foster, Jerry Pinter (tenor and soprano), pianist Ed Czach, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay. In
addition to “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” and “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love,” the group performs three lesser-known
Mingus compositions: the swinging “Monk, Bunk And Vice Versa,” “So Long Eric” and the haunting “Eclipse.” While
the ensembles do not become quite as adventurous and wild as Mingus’ bands, there are plenty of stirring moments
with Gary Foster and Jerry Pinter often taking solo honors.
      
For the six Mulligan works, Foster, Pinter and the rhythm section return and are joined by Gene Cipriano on tenor
and baritonist Adam Schroeder. “Apple Core” and “Motel” are the best known of the mostly obscure pieces. Schroeder
emulates Mulligan a little on “Strayhorn 2” and “Motel,” each of the horn players have spots (with Cipriano on “Out
Back Of The Barn” and Foster throughout starring), and Jeru’s legacy is well served.
      
Blue Skylight is another fine recording from Mark Masters, who has compiled quite a memorable body of work in his
career. Get this one, available from www.caprirecords.com.
                                                    

Tina May Meets Enrico Pieranunzi
Home Is Where The Heart Is
(33 Jazz)
      
Long one of Great Britain’s finest jazz singers, Tina May has recorded a wide variety of projects during her career.
Home Is Where The Heart Is is both intimate and quietly creative.
      
May and pianist Enrico Pieranunzi perform seven duets and (with the inclusion of Tony Coe on soprano) two trios.
The co-leaders contribute five originals (music by Pieranunzi and lyrics by May), Pieranunzi wrote two others (one
with lyrics by Lorraine Feather) and they also perform “Day Dream” and “This Is New.”
      
While the emphasis is on ballads with a few exceptions (most notably the closing “This Is New” and “The Night Bird”
which has May’s vocalese to a Chet Baker solo), the music holds one’s interest throughout. Tina May always had a
beautiful voice and she digs into the meaning of the lyrics. Enrico Pieranunzi’s playing throughout is quite sensitive
yet never obvious, both anticipating the singer’s directions and inspiring her to take even more chances. Tony Coe’s
soprano on “The Night Bird” and “Day Dream” adds variety and fire to the set.
      
Home Is Where The Heart Is grows in interest with each listen and fortunately the philosophical and thoughtful lyrics
are included in the inner sleeve. This fine project is well worth exploring and is available from www.33jazz.com.        
                                             

Maurice Gainen
Eight
(Empyrean Music)
      
Saxophonist and flutist Maurice Gainen has always believed in true world music. His previous CD, Youth Movement,
found him interacting with musicians and singers recorded in Kenya, Argentina, India and Los Angeles. On Eight, he
again utilizes performers from many countries along with a mixture of acoustic and electronic instruments while
always including the improvisation and spirit of jazz.
      
Eight begins with the exciting “Modern Africa,” a combination of African rhythms, funky bass, background vocalists
and the leader’s wailing soprano. “Tango Mumbai” has his pretty flutes, a couple of eerie-sounding violinists from
India and a tango rhythm. Voices (including Mighty Mo Rodgers) are used creatively on the catchy “Falling Softly”
while “I Will Return” looks towards Ethiopia in its dialogue, vocal, and the use of Amadou Fall’s kora.
      
Maurice Gainen’s journey through the world continues on “Unrequited Fantasy” which has brief dialogue in
Japanese and Shelly Ren on erhu. Gainen gets to stretch out on flute, alto and tenor during “Cobrinha,” a melodic
and rhythmic number from Brazil. “Rise & Shine” is a return to India with electronic percussion and Gainen’s
soprano being joined by violin and other unclassifiable sounds. “Rush” has a bit of Gainen’s tenor interacting with a
pair of Argentinian musicians. “Nota Singular” is an eccentric bossa-nova that teams the leader’s flute with pianist
Jamieson Trotter. The colorful program concludes with a dreamy version of “Isn’t It A Pity,” Maurice Gainen’s debut
as a singer.
      
All in all, Eight is a continually surprising set of music that is easily recommended and available from www.
mauricegainen.com.
                                               

Billy Childs
Rebirth
(Mack Avenue)
       
      
A major modern jazz pianist and composer, Billy Childs’ writing has sometimes overshadowed his very original piano
playing. While Rebirth has six of his originals, the focus is on his piano in a quartet with Steve Wilson (alto and
soprano), bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Eric Harland.
      
Both Childs’ solos and his pieces are harmonically advanced and challenging to musicians although quite listenable.
“Backwards Bop,” while not quite living up to its name (an intriguing thought), has a strong forward momentum, an
eccentric theme, an opening spot for Glawischnig and heated solos by Childs and Wilson on alto. “Rebirth” features
Claudia Acuna’s wordless singing in the ensembles, stirring piano and soprano solos, and a spot for trombonist Ido
Meshulam who is just on this piece. The ballad “Stay” puts the focus on guest singer Alicia Olatuja’s pleading and
effective vocal.
      
Of the other originals, “Dance Of Shiva” is a bit intense and finds the trio swinging hard, “Tightrope” is an advanced
jazz waltz and “The Starry Night” includes adventurous piano and soprano solos. Rebirth concludes with a stormy
version of “The Windmills Of Your Mind” (as if the John Coltrane Quartet had tackled it in 1965) and an alto-piano
duet on Horace Silver’s “Peace.”
      
Virtually every Billy Childs recording is well worth acquiring. Rebirth is most notable for his consistently creative
piano playing. It is available from www.mackavenue.com.
                                                     

Clarice Assad & Friends
Live At The Deer Head Inn
(Deer Head Records)
      
A very talented singer, pianist and composer, Clarice Assad was born and raised in Brazil. Her musical family
includes her aunt singer Badi Assad, her father guitarist Sergio Assad and her uncle guitarist Odair Assad. While
many of Clarice Assad’s compositions have been performed by orchestras, the spotlight on her Deer Head release is on
her singing.
      
Four selections are duets with percussionist Keita Ogawa including a medley of Antonio Carlos Jobim songs and
“Aquarela do Brazil” which has some brilliant scat-singing in addition to Assad’s piano. “Invitation” and Milton
Nascimento’s “Maria, Maria” have her singing with a quartet comprised of tenor-saxophonist Adam Niewood (who
takes several passionate solos), keyboardist Richard Burton, bassist Tony Martino and drummer Bill Goodwin. A
special treat are “Corcovado” and “Vera Cruz” for those two numbers team her with her fellow singer Nancy Reed,
whose English vocals contrast well with Assad’s vocalizing in Portuguese.
      
All in all, this is an enjoyable release that can serve as a fine introduction to the artistry of Clarice Assad. It is
available from www.deerheadinn.com.