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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                   August 2016
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Lennie Tristano
Chicago, April 1951
(Uptown)
      
In the mid-to-late 1940s, pianist Lennie Tristano came up with a fresh new way of playing jazz. Inspired by the greats
of bop and swing but distinctive from the start, Tristano created endless melodic lines that utilized unexpected
accents. He loved stretching out over the chord changes of standards many of which he gave new melodies and titles.
Tristano became an influential teacher and utilized some of his most talented young students as sidemen, including
altoist Lee Konitz, tenor-saxophonist Warne Marsh and guitarist Billy Bauer. When performing with his combo, he
generally had his bassist and drummer restrict themselves to quiet time keeping. His cool-toned horn players
engaged in adventurous chordal improvisation, interacted with each other, and on a few occasions created jazz’s first
free improvisations.
      
Tristano built up a relatively small but memorable body of work in his studio recordings. His Uptown two-CD set is a
major addition to his discography. These previously unreleased live performances, from Apr. 6-13, 1951, were
performed at the Blue Note in Chicago. Tristano is joined by Konitz, Marsh, bassist Buddy Jones, drummer Mickey
Simonetta and, in Bauer’s place, trombonist Willie Dennis. The recording quality is excellent (even if the piano is a
little low in the ensembles), it is intriguing hearing Dennis playing these pieces (he proves to be a strong soloist), and
Konitz in particular is in superior form. The 14 selections, all of which are either standards or use the chord changes
of standards, are uplifted by the playing of these stellar musicians. Add to that an informative and definitive 24-page
booklet with notes by Bob Blumenthal and plenty of photos, and one has a classic set.
      
Chicago, April 1951, available from www.uptownrecords.net, is one of the major jazz releases of 2016.


Professor Longhair
Live In Chicago
(Orleans)
      
Credited with being one of the very first to put funk into New Orleans music, pianist-singer Roy Byrd (who became
famous as Professor Longhair) was an influential force in several genres of music. While he made his recording debut
in 1949 and within a few years introduced such songs as “Mardi Gras In New Orleans,” “Tipitina” and “Bald Head,”
he was fairly obscure until the early 1970s and recorded very little as a leader. He passed away in early 1980 at the
age of 61.

Live In Chicago, which was recorded on Feb. 1, 1976 at the Chicago Folk Festival, is being released for the first time.
Longhair is heard in top form on this well-recorded set, heading a quintet that includes guitarist Billy Gregory (who
is often featured), rhythm guitarist Will Harvey, electric bassist Julius Farmer and drummer Earl Gordon. Other
than the guitar solos, the focus throughout is primarily on Professor Longhair’s infectious piano playing and
occasional vocals.

While the program is just a half-hour long, Professor Longhair’s versions of such songs as “Big Chief,” Mess Around”
and “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” find him in top form. Live In Chicago, which is available from www.orleansrecords.
com, serves as a perfect introduction to the unique and very appealing music of Professor Longhair.


Bobby Darin
Four Classic Albums
(Avid)
      
Bobby Darin’s career can easily be divided into three periods. He debuted as a rock and roll singer, having a few big
sellers including “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover.” He found immortality as a swinging big band crooner whose
version of “Mack The Knife” was a #1 hit. And his later years found him exploring folk music and philosophical rock
tunes. Due to a weak heart, Darin always knew that he probably would not be around long, but he accomplished
quite a bit before passing away in 1973 at the age of 37.
      
Four Classic Albums, a two-CD set available from Avid (www.avidgroup.co,uk), lives up to its name. Reissued are
three full albums from 1961-62 plus a greatest hits record from 1961. Since this was his middle period when he was
25-26 years old, this twofer is of particularly strong interest to those who love swinging big bands and vocals. Darin
came a lot closer than Frank Sinatra to being a jazz singer during this era even if he did not quite cross the line.
      
The first album, Love Swings, has Darin musically depicting the rise and fall of a love affair through such songs as
“How About You,’ “In Love In Vain” and an emotional “Spring Is Here.” The first few numbers swing hard while the
latter half focuses more on ballads as it becomes obvious that the relationship is not going to last. The second album,
Two Of A Kind, is an underrated gem that teams together Darin with the great lyricist/singer Johnny Mercer. They
clearly had a great deal of fun during this set which is full of ad-libbing, humorous interplay and even some excellent
scat-singing on “Indiana.” The music ranges from the flavor of Dixieland and some novelties to solid swinging.
Another album, Oh Look At Me Now, has Darin putting his stamp on such songs as a hard-swinging “All By Myself,”
“Blue Skies,” and “The Party’s Over.” Although the occasional background singers make the music a little dated, the
arrangements of Billy May (which are also heard on Two Of A Kind) uplift the music.
      
The remaining album, The Bobby Darin Story, includes a few of the rock and roll hits along with such memorable
romps as “Mack The Knife,” “Beyond The Sea,” “Bill Bailey,” “Artificial Flowers” and “Lazy River.” Few singers fit so
well at the front of a big band as Darin.
      
Taken as a whole, Four Classic Albums is Bobby Darin at his very best.


Acme Jazz Garage
Acme Jazz Garage
(Solar Grooves)
      
Acme Jazz Garage which is based in Tampa, Florida, performs funky jazz, soul jazz and Latin-flavored r&b grooves.
While its music is danceable, it also features excellent musicianship and strong solos.
      
The band’s self-titled CD has the quartet (guitarist Matt Swenson, keyboardist Bryan Lewis, bassist Philip Booth and
drummer Tim Diehl) joined on some selections by guest musicians. The congas of Gumbi Ortiz are prominent on
“Mongo Strut” and ”Mongo Jam,” Whitney James sings on the boppish “Last Call, vibraphonist Sam Koppelman’s
vibes add to the group’s sound on two numbers, and four horn players also make appearances.
      
The music, which is comprised of nine originals plus a heartfelt “America The Beautiful,” is spirited and well-played.
The Acme’s Jazz Garage’s recorded debut is quite accessible, consistently fun, and well worth picking up. It is
available from www.acmejazzgarage.com.


Dyan Kane
Dyatribe
(Interplay)
      
This is a continually intriguing CD. Dyan Kane, who has a very appealing voice and an adventurous spirit, teams up
with a top-notch rhythm section to interpret and reinvent seven songs. She gives “Eleanor Rigby” a rhythmically
complex treatment, taking the Beatles’ tune through several different time changes. “How Insensitive” is divorced
from its bossa-nova roots and sounds brand new. The most extensive performance, Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.” is
turned into an atmospheric modern jazz ballad that one could imagine Sheila Jordan tackling. “Willow Weep For Me”
is transformed successfully into a jazz waltz while “All Blues” features some of Dyan Kane’s inventive scatting. The
program closes with relatively straightforward versions of “I Thought About You” and “Come Together.”
      
Dyan Kane is joined by the talented pianist Robert Turner (who sometimes recalls McCoy Tyner but also has his own
fresh ideas), bassist Ryan Cross and drummer Lyndon Rochelle. While she is naturally in the forefront much of the
time, the singer functions as one of the musicians, is generous with the solo space, and she and her trio communicate
with each other quite well.
      
The result is a memorable set of music that contains more than its share of surprises. Dyatribe is recommended and
available from www.dyankanemusic.com.


Dollar Brand
Plays Sphere Jazz
(Phono)
      
This CD is actually two albums in one, both of which were formerly quite rare. In 1960, several key South African
jazz musicians made their first recordings. On Jan. 22, 1960, a quintet called the Jazz Epistles recorded Jazz Epistle –
Verse 1. Pianist Dollar Brand (who later would change his name to Abdullah Ibrahim), trumpeter Hugh Masekela,
trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, altoist Kippie Moeketsi, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko recorded
eight originals. While only Brand/Ibrahim and Masekela became famous outside of their native country, each of
these musicians had long careers but had to spend many years in Europe (and in some cases the U.S.) as they fled
South Africa’s apartheid regime starting in 1962.
      
On Verse 1, the Jazz Epistles perform forward-looking hard bop that in its openness to freer explorations is a little
reminiscent of early Sun Ra. While the horn players (particularly Moeketsi) are each impressive and the group
displays its own musical identity, Dollar Brand consistently takes the most adventurous and memorable solos.
Masekela shows his roots in bebop. The pianist is very much in the spotlight on the Plays Sphere Jazz session from Feb.
4, 1960, performing with Gertze and Ntshoko in a trio. In addition to several of his own songs, Brand comes up with
fresh variations on Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso” and the standard “Just You, Just Me.” Monk and Duke Ellington
were already influences on the pianist’s style while there are spots where he also recalls early Cecil Taylor, although
Brand might not have heard him at that point in time!
      
This historically significant and very musical CD is easily recommended and available from www.amazon.com.


Andy Schumm/Enrico Tomasso
When Louis Met Bix
(Lake)
      
Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke crossed paths on a few occasions in the 1920s and were mutual admirers. They
may have played together at a jam session in 1927, and definitely did on one informal occasion in 1928. What did it
sound like? This exciting CD gives listeners a few possible clues.
      
Cornetist Andy Schumm has the ability to sound almost identical to Beiderbecke while trumpeter Enrico Tomasso,
who actually met and had a few lessons with Armstrong, has really captured his playing of the late 1920s. For this
unique project, they are the co-leaders of an ensemble that includes Matthias Seuffert on clarinet, alto and tenor,
trombonist Alistair Allan, and a four-piece rhythm section that includes pianist Morten Gunnar Larsen. All of the
musicians are very well versed in late 1920s jazz and succeed at sounding as if they were performing during that era.
Allan ranges from Kid Ory to Fred Robinson, Seuffert sometimes sounds a bit like Johnny Dodds and on alto hints at
Frankie Trumbauer, while pianist Larsen throws in some Jelly Roll Morton along with other stylists of the period.
      
But the main stars are Schumm and Tomasso. They perform 14 songs (plus Schumm’s original “When She Came To
Me”) that Armstrong and Beiderbecke were certainly familiar with including a few that they never recorded. Some
of the performances (such as “Who’s It,” “Put ‘Em Down Blues” and “Skid-Dat-De-Dat”) imagine that Bix was sitting
in with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five while some of the others (including “Bessie Couldn’t Help It” and “Ol’ Man River”)
have Armstrong playing with Bix’s groups. While Tomasso/Armstrong often dominates the ensembles (as he would
have in real life) and takes some explosive solos, Schumm/Beiderbecke provides many exquisite moments,
particularly on “Manhattan” and “My Melancholy Baby.” Other highlights include “Chloe,” “Whispering,” and
“Come On And Stomp, Stomp, Stomp” but every performance has its exciting spots. For the closing “Baltimore,”
Tomasso (as Armstrong) plays a duet with Larsen who emulates Bix’s piano style, a great idea.
      
Fans of vintage jazz will certainly enjoy this set but those listeners who are familiar with the 1920s styles of
Armstrong and Beiderbecke will particularly find When Louis Met Bix to be filled with revelations. This inspired set is
a must and available from Lake Records (England’s most significant classic jazz label) at www.fellside.com.


Cuong Vu Trio
Meets Pat Metheny
(Nonesuch/Metheny Group Productions)
      
An inventive trumpeter with his own musical conception, Cuong Vu knew that he had to become a musician when,
as a high school freshman, he heard Pat Metheny’s Travels. As he developed, Vu followed Metheny’s career closely.
After gaining quite a bit of experience in New York’s Downtown Scene and in many different settings, in 2002 he
became a member of the guitarist’s band. While he appeared on several of Metheny’s recordings during his period
with the group, a longtime goal of having Metheny appear on one of his own CDs went unfulfilled until recently.
      
Meets Pat Metheny finds the innovative guitarist joining Vu’s group which also includes bassist Stomu Takeishi and
drummer Ted Poor. They perform seven songs including five Vu originals and Metheny’s “Telescope.” The music is
often quite rockish and sometimes pretty dense and dissonant but also grooves in its own way. Metheny, rather than
sounding like a guest, fits in very well with the group, adding fire and depth to the ensembles along with many
passionate solos on his guitar and guitar synthesizer. While Vu is generous in featuring Metheny, he also gets his
share of solo space.

However it is the crowded but coherent ensembles that are of greatest interest along with the interplay between the
musicians. Listeners who enjoy the adventurous side of fusion will certainly find much to savor on this CD, available
from www.nonesuch.com.


Quincy Jones Orchestra
Live In Ludwigshafen 1961
(Jazz Haus)
      
Quincy Jones has had a long and remarkably productive career, covering many genres of music and areas of the
music business. Arguably his greatest contributions to jazz were his arrangements and compositions of the 1950s and
‘60s, and his leadership of his big band during 1959-61.
The Quincy Jones Orchestra was organized to perform and even act a bit in the Harold Arlen musical show Free And
Easy during a tour of Europe. The production ran into difficulties and closed in Feb. 1960, leaving Jones and his
musicians stranded overseas. For much of the next year, Jones struggled to keep his band together, performing all
over Europe. The musicians eventually returned to the U.S. and performed at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival before
breaking up.
      
The previously unreleased music on this CD was performed live in Ludwigshafen, West Germany on Mar. 15, 1961,
five days after the performances released years ago on The Great Wide World Of Quincy Jones. The recording quality
is excellent and the band is very much in its prime. Jones is at the head of an all-star group filled with both veterans
and up-and-comers. Featured along the way are trumpeters Benny Bailey and Freddie Hubbard (who stretches out on
“Stolen Moments”), trombonists Curtis Fuller and Ake Persson, the remarkable French horn innovator Julius
Watkins (who is showcased on “Caravan”), altoist Phil Woods, tenor-saxophonist Budd Johnson, and Les Spann on
flute among others. The music is straight ahead and boppish with the orchestra showing that it was on the same high
level as the Count Basie and Maynard Ferguson big bands of the time.
      
Jones, Ernie Wilkins, Melba Liston, Nat Pierce and Phil Woods provided the arrangements. Whether it is “The
Midnight Sun Will Never Set” (which has beautiful playing by Woods), a lengthy “Lester Leaps In” “Air Mail Special”
or “Moanin’,” this is an exciting set of music by a classic orchestra. It is available from www.naxos.com.


Peter Zak
Standards
(Steeplechase)
      
Peter Zak is an excellent modern mainstream jazz pianist who has developed his own sound within the tradition. He
has been part of the New York jazz scene since 1989 and is a regular on the Steeplechase label. Standards is his 11th
CD for Steeplechase.
      
It is surprising to learn that Zak and bassist Jay Anderson had never played together before recording this CD, not
even having one rehearsal. Together with drummer Billy Drummond, the trio sounds very much like a regularly
working group. Brief arranged passages along with quick musical communication resulted in high-quality
interpretations of ten veteran (but not overplayed) standards.
      
While one can hear touches of early McCoy Tyner and a little Bill Evans in Zak’s playing, he has his own musical
personality. His melodic improvisations are alternately tender and hard-swinging, he engages in close interplay with
Anderson and Drummond, and their versions of these standards are fresh and lively. Highlights include “The Night
Has A Thousand Eyes,” “So In Love,” “The Star-Crossed Lovers” and “Indian Summer.”
      
Listeners who love hearing first-class piano trios will find much to savor on Standards, which is available from www.
statesidemusic.com.


Jane Ira Bloom
Early Americans
(Outline)
      
One of the giants of the soprano-sax, Jane Ira Bloom has a beautiful tone and an adventurous style. On Early
Americans, although she plays pretty freely in spots, her improvisations are thoughtful, melodic and full of quiet
emotions, building up logically to climaxes.
      
Surprisingly this is her first recording in a trio. Bloom teams up with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby
Previte on a dozen originals and Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” none of which exceed six minutes in length.
Despite the title of the CD and a few of the song titles, the only time that the music of Native Americans is strongly
hinted at is in the forceful rhythm and droning bass of “Dangerous Times.” The set of inside/outside music ranges
from some playful free bop on “Song Patrol” and “Cornets Of Paradise,” inventive playing by Bloom over the vamp of
“Hips & Sticks” and the catchy “Singing The Triangle” to a heartfelt tribute to the late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler
“(“Nearly”), the brooding ballad “Mind Gray River” and a wistful unaccompanied soprano solo on “Somewhere.”
      
With Helias and Previte providing stimulating and very intuitive support along with occasional solos, Early
Americans is one of Jane Ira Bloom’s finest recordings in recent times. It is recommended and available from www.
janeirabloom.com.


Rent Romus’ Life’s Blood Ensemble
Rising Colossus
(Edgetone)
      
A major force in the adventurous jazz scene of the San Francisco Bay area for quite a few years, Rent Romus on Rising
Colossus is featured with his Life’s Blood Ensemble. The septet consists of tenor-saxophonist Joshua Marshall,
trumpeter Mike Koskinen, vibraphonist Mark Clifford, drummer Timothy Orr and both Max Judelson and Safa
Shokrai on basses along with the leader on alto and flute.
      
The repertoire includes a pair of four-movement suites and four other pieces including a work by Anthony Braxton
(the very high-powered “Composition 23j”) and Romus’ “Empyrean City Rising.” One of the highpoints is John
Tchicai’s “Cherry Vanilla” which features heated solos and rambunctious ensembles. While Romus’ music could be
classified as avant-garde, it often swings hard, the soloists are obviously familiar with their historical predecessors,
and the spirited performances contain a healthy dose of strong melodies, rhythms and wit.
      
It is an understatement to say that there are no dull moments on Rising Colossus. The dramatic music alternates
worked-out sections with intense improvising, is consistently unpredictable, explores many moods and emotions, and
always has the potential to become explosive. While this dynamic set is not for everyone, those with open ears will
find much to enjoy on Rising Colossus which is available from www.edgetonerecords.com.