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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                      July 2018
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Daryl Sherman
Lost In A Crowded Place
(Audiophile)
      
Daryl Sherman has been a major swing singer and pianist for at least 30 years. Her tender yet quietly
expressive voice sometimes hints at Mildred Bailey or Lee Wiley but sounds very much like herself while her
piano playing is fluent and creative within swing.
      
Ms. Sherman is very much in prime form throughout the recent Lost In A Crowded Place. She performs a few
superior if mostly little-played standards (how often does one hear a vocal version of “Stars Fell On Alabama”
these days?), two of her originals, and a variety of long-forgotten gems such as Barbara Carroll’s title song,
Duke Ellington’s “Azalea,” the Gershwin’s “The Lorelei,” and Louis Armstrong’s “If We Never Meet Again.”
      
In addition to her singing and occasional piano solos, a major reason to acquire his CD is for the trumpet
playing of Jon-Erik Kellso. His solos and accompaniment are a little reminiscent of Johnny Windhurst’s on
his sessions with Lee Wiley and Barbara Lea, or Ruby Braff on his duet albums with pianist Ellis Larkins. He is
powerful yet tasteful, melodic yet unpredictable; always a joy to hear including his plunger mute work on
‘The Lorelei.” Guitarist Don Vappie (who takes a surprise vocal with Ms. Sherman on “You Go To My Head”
that is quite effective) has some fine guitar solos, and bassist Jesse Boyd stars on “Turkquoise” in addition to
anchoring the drumless rhythm section.
      
Daryl Sherman’s choice of notes, both vocally and instrumentally, makes the music a consistent delight. This
highly recommended set is available from www.jazzology.com.
                                                   

Randy Brecker Quintet
Live 1988
(MVD)
      
The music on this DVD was originally put out as a CD nearly 30 years ago by Sonet in Europe and (with one
additional selection) the GNP/Crescendo label in the U.S. The set of seven songs were played at New York’s
Sweet Basil during Nov. 18-20, 1988. Now for the first time, the performances can be seen as well as heard.
      
In addition to the consistently fiery solos of trumpeter Randy Brecker and the excellent rhythm section
(pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Dieter Ilg and drummer Joey Baron), the DVD is of particular interest for giving
listeners the rare opportunity to see tenor-saxophonist Bob Berg, who died tragically in a car crash in 2002
when he was just 51.

This package not only includes the DVD but a CD with the same music. The performances largely define the
modern jazz mainstream of 1988, and even to an extent that of today. The program begins with explosive
versions of “Mojoe” and “No Scratch.” Brecker is passionate, Berg sounds like an extension of Michael
Brecker but with his own conception, Kikoski is quite animated and enthusiastic, and the rhythm section
(with intense playing from Baron) never lets up.

The other selections continue along the same line. “Moontide” (with Brecker switching to fluegelhorn) is a
little calmer as is the modern ballad “Incidentally” while “Ting Chang” is filled with heat. The mostly high-
powered set concludes with an uptempo version of “Love For Sale” (the only song not composed by Brecker)
and “Hurdy Gurdy.”
      
Fans of Randy Brecker and Bob Berg should consider this release to be essential for features the musicians in
inspired form. It is available from www.mvdb2b.com.
                                                   

James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra and Others
The Product Of Our Souls
(Archeophone)
      
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this collection was a long time coming. On two sessions during
1913-14, James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra became the first African-American dance band to be
recorded, resulting in eight selections. Although the numbers had been reissued on a haphazard basis through
the decades, the Archeophone CD is the first time that all eight performances have been collected together. It
only took 104 years!
      
James Reese Europe (1880-1919), who had his life cut short when he was murdered by a disgruntled
drummer in 1919, was a giant of his era. While not a performing musician himself, Europe was an arranger-
composer and a pioneer as a bandleader. He organized the Clef Club Orchestra in 1910 and two years later
played a concert at Carnegie Hall, a groundbreaking event for an African-American group and for any dance
band. His orchestra, which at times had up to 125 members, performed popular songs of the era, renditions of
classical music and music that was sometimes influenced by ragtime. The orchestra gained fame for its work
accompanying Vernon and Irene Castle, influential performers who introduced many dances including the
foxtrot. During World War I, Europe gained great acclaim overseas when he led a syncopated military band
(the Hellfighters) throughout France. That orchestra recorded jazz-oriented performances in 1919 with some
vocals by Noble Sissle. But James Reese Europe, who was poised to make major accomplishments in the “Jazz
Age,” was killed just two months later.
      
The 1913-14 performances, despite their syncopations and even an improvising violinist on one song, are pre
jazz rather than jazz. Of greatest interest, in addition to the band’s obvious enthusiasm, is the inventive
drumming of Buddy Gilmore who adds a lot of color and excitement to the uptempo pieces. The Dec. 29,
1913 session has Europe leading a group consisting of five banjo mandolins, three violins, a single piano
(played by two pianists), cornet, clarinet and drummer Gilmore. They perform a pair of conventional South
American dance tunes (“Amapa” and the tango “El Irresistible”) and, most importantly, spirited renditions of
“Too Much Mustard” and Wilbur Sweatman’s “Down Home Rag.” The second session from May 5, 1914 has
different instrumentation (cornet, clarinet, flute, baritone horn, three violins, piano, cello and Gilmore on
drums) performing the Broadway show tune “You’re Here And I’m Here” plus three Europe compositions:
the waltz “Castle’s Lame Duck,” “Castle Walk” and the exciting “Castle House Rag.” The music is the closest
that any recording group came to jazz before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band debuted in 1917.         

14 other rare recordings, dating from 1912-16 with one vocalist from 1908, are also on this CD. Nine are
other band’s versions of the songs recorded by Europe, and five are additional Europe compositions. Dating
from Featured are singers Ada Jones, Bob Roberts, Kathleen Kingston and Billy Murray, the Metropolitan
Military Band, Prince’s Band, the Van Eps Trio (“Down Home Rag”), the National Promenade Band, the
Indestructible Band and the Victor Military Band. It is interesting to hear these straight and rigid
performances next to the looser playing of James Reese Europe’s orchestra; only the Van Eps Trio generates
excitement.
      
The accompanying 56-page booklet is definitive, colorful, and a major plus to the historic set which finally
gives listeners the opportunity to hear all of James Reese Europe’s early recordings. In the future I hope that
Archeophone (www.archeophone.com), the top label in compiling pre-1920 recordings, will also put out
extensive sets on the early virtuoso ragtime banjoists Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps. Those are the most
important gaps left in the reissue of early music.
                                             

Greg Robbins
On Your Way
(Self-Released)
          
Greg Robbins, a fine jazz singer based in Atlanta, recently released his debut CD. On Your Way features the
vocalist joined by pianist Kevin Bales (Tyrone Jackson takes his place on three numbers), bassist Kevin
Smith, and drummer Justin Varnes (Kermit Walker plays drums on one song), with occasional contributions
from tenor-saxophonist John Sandfort and trumpeter Melvin Jones.
          
Robbins has a warm and attractive voice that is distinctive, he swings at every tempo and, while generally
sticking to the lyrics, he proves to be a subtle improviser throughout this wide-ranging set. On Your Way
begins with pianist Ronnell Bright’s. “Don’t Call It Love,” a relative to “Just Friends” both in its chord changes
and the content of its lyrics. “On Your Way,” which is about being blindsided by the surprise end of a love
affair, is one of the singer’s two originals on the project. The bossa nova has a nice spot for Sandfort’s tenor.

The ballad “Meadowlarks” is a fine showcase for Robbins’ voice and includes a fiery solo by trumpeter
Walker. “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is taken as a tasteful and heartfelt duet by Robbins and pianist Bales.
The obscure “Cat Meets Chick” was written by jazz critic Leonard Feather and had not been recorded by
anyone since 1957. It is heard as a vocal for the first time with lyrics by New York bassist Rob Duguay; it has
another colorful statement from Melvin Jones. Ronnell Bright’s medium-tempo cooker “Sweet Pumpkin” is
highlighted by Robbins swinging particularly well during his second vocal chorus. A change of pace, “Tell Me
Friend” is an anti-racism song that includes funky rhythms and a brief rap by Sho Baraka. A second version
(with a trumpet solo instead of the rap) is also included. The remainder of the set includes the expressive
“Helplessness Blues,” the contemporary ballad “Everlong,” and a joyful medium-tempo romp on “It’s Got To
Be Love.”
          
On Your Way is a pretty impressive debut for Greg Robbins and is easily recommended. One looks forward to
the singer’s future accomplishments.  More information can be found at www.facebook.
com/GregRobbinsMusic
                                               

On The Levee Jazz Band
(Big Al Records)
      
During 1944-61, veteran trombonist Kid Ory led a series of classic New Orleans jazz bands. The musicianship
was always excellent (there was no question that the musicians would be in tune), the soloists were colorful
and melodic, and the many ensembles were both clean and exciting. Whether it was his bands with
cornetist/trumpeter Mutt Carey, Andrew Blakeney, Teddy Buckner, Alvin Alcorn (my favorite edition) or
Henry “Red” Allen, Ory performed spirited and memorable music.
      
The On The Levee Jazz Band brings back the sound of Ory’s groups. While the lack of liner notes or
information beyond the basic song and personnel listings is unfortunate, the music very much speaks for
itself. Drummer Hal Smith is the leader of a septet comprised of trumpeter Ben Polcer, multi-instrumentalist
Clint Baker on trombone (probably his best ax), clarinetist Joe Goldberg, pianist Kris Tokarski, guitarist Alex
Belhaj and bassist Joshua Gouzy.  The band comes close to sounding like Ory’s group with Alcorn. Baker
really has the Ory style down on trombone, trumpeter Polcer offers a solid but not dominating lead,
clarinetist Goldberg is fluent while staying melodic, and the rhythm section is subtle and swinging.
      
The 14 selections are all taken from Ory’s repertoire on his Good Time Jazz recordings with the highlights
including jubilant versions of “Original Dixieland One Step,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Royal Garden Blues” and
“Panama.” Actually all of the performances are quite enjoyable. The band even explodes now and then going
into the final chorus just as Ory and Alcorn used to.
      
Fans of Kid Ory, New Orleans jazz, and joyful music in general will certainly want this excellent outing which
is available from www.ontheleveejazz.com.
                                                 

Eliane Elias
Music From Man Of La Mancha
(Concord)
      
After the surprise success of the Shelly Manne Trio’s recording of the music from My Fair Lady in 1956
(which featured pianist Andre Previn and bassist Red Mitchell), a countless number of jazz groups recorded
their set-long interpretations of the music from a play or a film. For every version of the score of Guys and
Dolls and The King And I, there were several recordings of the music from a soon-to-be-forgotten production
such as L’il Abner and The Proper Time.
      
Back in 1995, Mitch Leigh, the composer of the music for Man Of La Mancha, commissioned Eliane Elias to
record an album of songs from his famous play. While Ms. Elias occasionally sang at that point in time, this
was before her vocalizing began to dominate her recordings. Music Form Man Of La Mancha is a strictly
instrumental set in which she is joined by either Eddie Gomez or Matt Johnson on bass, Jack DeJohnette or
Satoshi Takeishi on drums, and percussionist Manolo Badrena on all but one of the nine selections.
      
The only song from the play that became famous (or perhaps infamous) was “The Impossible Dream” which
is usually performed as an over-the-top vocal. On this set, the pianist largely disguises the melody at first and
comes up with a creative version. The other pieces that she chose, which include “Dulcinea,” “What Does He
Want Of Me,” “I’m Only Thinking Of You” and “A Little Gossip,” are obscure and certainly qualify as fresh
material. While the pieces generally do not offer memorable themes, the playing by Eliane Elias is inventive,
thoughtful, and full of subtle surprises. She was always a brilliant pianist and it is rewarding to hear this long-
lost set from her earlier days.
      
The music on her Concord disc (available from www.concordrecords.com) was only previously heard and
enjoyed by the composer and his friends. It is great that it has been finally released for everyone else to savor.
                                                    

Ben Webster
Valentine’s Day 1964 Live
(Dot Time)
      
Although he would not have known it at the time, veteran tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster was near the cross
roads of his career when he recorded this previously unreleased set at the Half Note in New York on Feb. 14,
1964. It had been 21 years since he had left Duke Ellington’s orchestra (although there was a later stint and
guest appearances) and, while he had toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic and recorded regularly for
Norman Granz’s Verve label in the 1950s, Webster was being overshadowed by such younger saxophonists as
John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. While he recorded the classic album See You At The Fair
a month later, by year end he had moved permanently to Europe where he was better appreciated.
      
Still very much in his prime, Webster is teamed with pianist Dave Frishberg (whose singing and song-writing
were still a few years away), bassist Richard Davis and drummer Grady Tate for a typical set of swingers and
ballads. Webster excelled in both settings with his choice of sounds (from roars to whispers) being more
significant than his choice of notes. There are no surprises in the repertoire which includes “Chelsea Bridge,”
“How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Cotton Tail,” “The Theme” (mistakenly listed as “52nd Street Theme”)
and two versions of “Caravan,” but Webster plays everything with enthusiasm and feeling. Frishberg also has
a few excellent solos although the main focus is on the great tenor.
      
This excellent addition to Ben Webster’s discography is available from www.dottimerecords.com.
                                             

Al Fairweather
The Al Fairweather Collection 1953-1957
(Lake)
      
In the world of British trad jazz, Al Fairweather was one of the top trumpeters during the 1950s. Like
Humphrey Lyttelton, he began his career primarily performing 1920s-style jazz but later evolved into a
swing/mainstream player. Since he spent much of his career working as a sideman (particularly with
clarinetist Sandy Brown and later on with Acker Bilk), just leading an occasional recording session, he is not
as well-known as Lyttelton or Kenny Ball although he was on their level as a player. This two-CD set,
compiled by Lake (today’s top British trad label), features Fairweather in a variety of worthy settings.
      
During the first disc, Al Fairweather is heard on two selections on which he guests with Lyttelton’s band,
jamming happily with the great clarinetist Albert Nicholas on four numbers, on sessions headed by Sandy
Brown and pianist Stan Greig, and leading a date of his own. The music includes 1920s, Dixieland standards,
and some obscurities plus Basie’s “Swinging The Blues.” The other key musicians include trombonist John R.
T. Davies (who became best-known as an innovative recording engineer) and guitarist Diz Disley.
      
The second CD has the music from two full albums. Trombonist John Picard’s Angels, a sextet with clarinetist
Wally Fawkes, romps on such unexpected tunes as “The Lady In Red,” “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Show Me The
Way To Go Home,” along with some more typical songs. Brother John Sellers, an American blues, folk and
gospel singer who recorded for several labels during 1954-57, has an intriguing matchup with Fairweather,
Fawkes, Greig and Disley in a sextet. It all works out fine for space was left for his sidemen and Sellers
displays a strong and flexible voice along with sincere feeling.
      
This set of enjoyable rarities is just one of scores of valuable CDs available from Lake (www.fellside.com).
                                                    

Cy Coleman
A Jazzman’s Broadway
(Harbinger)
      
Cy Coleman (1929-2004) gained fame as a top Broadway composer starting in 1960. He later wrote “If My
Friends Could See Me Now” and “Big Spender” with lyricist Dorothy Fields. Before that, he had already
become a successful songwriter, often collaborating with lyricist Carolyn Leigh including on “Witchcraft” and
“The Best Is Yet To Come.”
      
But unlike nearly all of the Broadway composers, Cy Coleman was also a skilled jazz pianist. He actually
started out as a child prodigy in classical music (giving recitals starting from the age of six) before leading the
Cy Coleman Trio throughout the 1950s.
      
A Jazzman’s Broadway features Coleman performing other people’s music from Broadway plays, with
separate sets of the songs from Jamaica (1957) and Flower Drum Song (1958) plus four songs from South
Pacific (1949). Jamaica uses a vocal group on a few numbers, most prominently on “I Don’t Think I’ll End It
All Today.” Coleman took his first recorded vocals on this project. The instrumentals could pass as being by
Red Garland although Coleman also hints at Dave Brubeck (without the polyrhythms) in spots. Flutist Romeo
Penque and guitarist Skeeter Best sometimes augment the trio. Flower Drum Song, which has Coleman
leading a trio with bassist Aaron Bell and drummer G. Hogan, has some of the strongest music with close
interplay between the pianist and bassist. The South Pacific numbers (taken solo) are brief and uneventful
but nice to have.
     
A Jazzman’s Broadway (available from www.harbingerrecords.com) serves to remind listeners of the jazz
talents of Cy Coleman and it makes for an enjoyable listen.
                                                      Scott Yanow

Zack Varner
Blues In The Nude
(Self-Released)
      
These days, the jazz world is filled with a countless number of talents. In fact, there are more brilliant
musicians active in jazz today than there has ever been, and they are based throughout the world. One new
name to remember is Zack Varner, an excellent alto and tenor-saxophonist who calls Austin, Texas his home.
      
Originally raised near Atlanta, Varner has been a pro for over 15 years but he is long overdue to be
discovered. Blues In The Nude, his debut recording as a leader, finds Varner sounding a bit like Phil Woods
on alto. Joined by an excellent rhythm section (pianist Ross Margitza, bassist Daniel Durham, and drummer
Wayne Sulzmann II.), and occasional guests (including trumpeter Adrian Ruiz and trombonist Mark Gonzalez
on three songs apiece, and alto and tenor-saxophonist Bennett Wood on two), he performs 11 of his originals.
      
Among the highlights of this enjoyable set are the boppish “Blues In The Nude,” the slightly tongue-in-cheek
“Faux Tango #4,” Carter Arrington’s guitar on “How Bout It,” the melancholy waltz “Russian Dog Dreams,”
the surprisingly fiery freeform outbursts on “Stonehenge Throwdown,” some atmospheric cello by Illia De La
Rosa on “Asterism,” and the joyful closer “I Looked Around For You” which uses a bit of stop-time.
      
The music is excellent, easily recommended, and available from www.zackvarner.com.
                                                 

Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo
Floating In Winter
(Basset Hound Music)
      
When one thinks of jazz duos, the instrumental combinations that come quickly to mind are piano & bass,
saxophone or trumpet & piano, two guitars, and even voice & bass (thanks to Sheila Jordan). Very few would
immediately think of tuba & guitar.
      
Listening to Jim Self, one quickly forgets all of the stereotypes of how a tuba sounds. His tone is mellow, his
technique is unbeatable, and he often seems to sound like a bass trombonist with a well extended lower
register. On a program consisting of two songs apiece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chuck Mangione, Henry
Mancini, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan plus a pair of standards, an obscurity, and one original apiece
by the co-leaders, Self and Chiodini sound very much like a complete band. Usually the melody is stated by
the tuba. Then Self accompanies the guitarist during his solos while Chiodini plays rhythm guitar behind the
tuba improvisations. A special treat is hearing Self on the fluba (a tuba-sized flugelhorn); a photo in the liner
notes shows that it is pretty enormous!
      
Whether it is “So Danco Samba,” “Children Of Sanchez,” “In Walked Bud” or “Two For The Road,” Jim Self
and John Chiodini create beautiful music at a variety of tempos and moods. The blend between their
instruments is surprisingly effective and the results (available from www.jimself.com) are rewarding.
                                     

Soul Blade Orchestra
Vol. 1
(Self-Released)
      
Despite its name, the Soul Blade Orchestra is actually a sextet. Formed in France in May 2011 by drummer
Thierry Bonneaux, it exclusively performs the compositions of vibraphonist Thierry Collin. Vol. 1 is, as one
might guess, their first CD.
      
The group consists of three Thierrys (vibraphonist Collin, drummer Bonneaux and bassist Thierry Colson),
two Damiens (soprano-saxophonist Damien Hennicker and tenor-saxophonist Damien Prud’homme) and
guitarist Olivers Cahours. Their music ranges from “Hymne A Zanzibar,” a folk/jazz tune that sounds like
something that Oregon might have performed, to an energetic “The Green Fairy,” the thoughtful ballad
“Mado,” and the playful waltz “Freaky.”  “Bahia” is one of several numbers that recall Chick Corea’s writing
style a bit while the closing “Le Mas De Thuir” includes a bit of free playing before ultimately becoming a
mood piece. The two saxophonists add a lot of energy and fire to the date, vibraphonist Collin is a major part
of the group’s musical personality (keeping the band from sounding like anyone else), Cahours contributes
some fine solos, and the rhythm section is tight throughout the varied material.
      
Soul Blade’s Vol. 1 covers a lot of ground and holds one’s interest throughout. It is well worth acquiring and is
available from www.thierry-collin.fr and amazon.com.