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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                     March 2016
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Marcus Printup Quintet
Lost
(Steeplechase)

Marcus Printup Sextet
Young Bloods
(Steeplechase)

Valery Ponomarev Jazz Big Band
Our Father Who Art Blakey
(Zoho)

Freddie Hendrix
Jersey Cat
(Sunnyside)

There is no shortage of great jazz trumpeters around these days. Three of the more brilliant brass players are covered in this
review.
      
Marcus Printup first gained recognition when he joined Marcus Roberts’ group in 1991. He has been a member of the Jazz At
Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1995 while also having his own solo career. His playing ranges from modern hard bop to bits of
New Orleans jazz. On Lost, a quintet set with tenor-saxophonist Shantawn Kendrick, pianist Helen Sung, bassist Ben Williams
and drummer Ulysses Owens, Printup shows that he is a very skilled composer too. His pieces include the uptempo “G Wiz”
(which begins the CD with some blazing trumpet), a mixture of reggae, calypso and New Orleans parade rhythms on “Soul Street
Parade,” the melancholy ballad “Lost” (dedicated to his late father), the appealing “Black Bossa”, and a raging “Homey’s Idea.”
The latter has an explosive tradeoff by Printup and Kendrick. Other selections include the modal ballad “Hopscotch,” the catchy
“What You Talkin Bout” (which has a groove like Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”) and the soulful strut “To The Mountain Top.”
In addition to Printup’s strong solos, Kendrick and Sung make the best use of their share of space while Williams and Owens are
stimulating in support of the lead voices.
      
Young Bloods is a bit more of a blowing session although Printup contributed four of the eight pieces. This CD introduces 21-year
old altoist Patrick Bartley and 18-year old trombonist Coleman Hughes, both of whom already play at a world-class level despite
their youth. Joined by pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Ulysses Owens, the sextet sounds a bit like
the Jazz Messengers on the selections on which all of the horns appear, particularly “En Route” and ”Greasy.” The latter, a
medium-tempo blues, has Printup playing a stirring New Orleans/swing solo and Bartley recalling the 1940s jump altoists. “The
Bishop” is a catchy tune that displays Printup’s roots in gospel music. His muted horn is in the spotlight (along with trombonist
Hughes) on “My Foolish Heart.” “Young Bloods” (a surprisingly laidback jazz waltz considering its title) and an inventive revival
of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” are also excellent. However the highpoints are Printup’s dramatic playing on “How
Great Thou Art” (a duet with pianist Johnson) and the interplay between the leader and altoist Bartley on an exciting pianoless
version of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave.” Both of these reardingd Marcus Printup Steeplechase CDs are available from Stateside
Distributors (www.statesidemusic.com).
      
Valery Ponomarev moved from the Soviet Union to New York in 1973. He met Art Blakey soon after arriving and became a
member of the Jazz Messengers, which perfectly fit his hard bop-oriented style. The debut CD for his big band, Our Father Who
Art Blakey, is a tribute to the Jazz Messengers and Blakey. The great and apparently ageless tenor-saxophonist Benny Golson (86
at the time of this 2014 recording) guests and plays quite well on “Moanin’” and “Blues March.” Other soloists include (in
addition to Ponomarev),trumpeters Josh Evans and Chris Rogers, tenors Steven Carrington and Peter Brainin, altoist Todd
Bashore, baritonist Anthony Nelson, trombonist Stafford Hunter and pianist Mimiko Watanabe. But the main reason to acquire
this CD is to hear Valery Ponomarev’s arrangements. He wrote swinging yet somewhat unpredictable ensembles for such pieces
as Freddie Hubbard’s “Crisis,” “Jordu” (which includes a harmonized recreation of Clifford Brown’s recorded trumpet solo) and
his own “Dina’s Cooking.” The music is always driving and would certainly have been enjoyed by Art Blakey. This fine CD is
available from www.zohomusic.com.
      
One of the top young straight ahead trumpeters around today, Freddie Hendrix has been making a strong impression during the
past few years. Whether featured with New York area big bands, touring with Count Basie, or featured with hot combos, Hendrix
can always be relied upon to contribute a large sound, extroverted solos and creative ideas within the hard bop tradition. On
Jersey Cat, he leads a septet that includes altoist Bruce Williams, Abraham Burton on tenor, trombonist David Gibson, pianist
Brandon McCune, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Cecil Brooks III. Starting with the heated “St. Peter’s Walk” and
continuing with a warm ballad statement on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the moody ballad “Jersey Cat,” Freddie Hubbard’s
“Hubtones,” and a very expressive version of Horace Silver’s Peace,” Hendrix shows throughout his CD that he is an important
force on today’s jazz scene. His excellent CD is available from www.sunnysiderecords.com
                                                 

Buell Neidlinger
Gayle Force
(K2B2)
      
Charles Gayle, an intense tenor-saxophonist who has gained fame in the jazz world for his passionate free improvisations, became
known after recording what were thought of as his first records in 1988. But now, with the release of the previously unheard
Gayle Force, Gayle’s history is being rewritten a bit. Gayle Force, a trio set with bassist Buell Neidlinger and drummer John
Bergamo, was recorded in Buffalo back in 1965.
      
26 at the time, Gayle sometimes shows the influence of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in spots but he was already long on
his way towards developing his own sound. Neidlinger, who had previously worked with Cecil Taylor and knew all of the key
“new thing” players, had missed playing this type of avant-garde jazz while being based in Buffalo and was delighted when Gayle
showed up at a jam session. Neidlinger really excels in this setting, creating fascinating and colorful free-form solos while
interacting closely with the supportive drummer Bergamo. The trio performs four free improvisations (including pieces called
‘Very Fast” and “Even Faster”) and a very emotional version of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”
      
More than a half-century after the recording was made, this music is finally being made available by K2B2 (www.K2b2.com)
and it has certainly not become dated in the slightest. It is significant both historically and musically.
                                                     

Christian Howes
American Spirit        
(Resonance)
      
One of jazz’s top violinists, Christian Howes performs a set of music on this CD that is diverse and full of Americana. Joined by
either pianist Josh Nelson or Hamilton Hardin on organ or piano, plus bassist Ben Williams and drummer Gregory Hutchinson,
Howes performs in idioms ranging from Jean-Luc Ponty-type fusion to swing. He doubles on the Octave Geiger, an instrument
that is an octave lower than the violin.
      
Starting with Leonard Bernstein’s “America” and performing such numbers as “Both Sides Now,” “Just A Closer Walk With
Thee,” “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness,” “Shenandoah” (the latter two songs have fine Polly Gibbons vocals) and Bob James’ “Angela,”
Howes does justice to each selection. He often uses self-restraint but cuts loose when he feels that the music would benefit from an
outburst of excitement.  This unusual and consistently colorful program, which includes Samuel Barber’s “Galop” and three of
Howes’ originals (including the unaccompanied violin piece “Postlude”) holds one’s interest throughout. American Spirit
(available from www.resonancerecords.org) is arguably Christian Howes’ finest recording so far.
                                                    

National Jazz Ensemble
Featuring Gerry Mulligan
(Dot Time)
     
In the 1970s, bassist Chuck Israels and arranger David Berger organized the National Jazz Ensemble, an early jazz repertory
orchestra. Under Israels’ direction, the NJE had several successful seasons, both in New York and on the road. This CD releases for
the first time their concert from Feb. 19, 1977 which features the great baritone-saxophonist Gerry Mulligan as a special guest.
      
Mulligan is featured on six of the nine selections, five of which are his compositions. On such numbers as “Walkin’ Shoes,” “Idol
Gossip” and John Carisi’s “Israel,” Mulligan is in often-exuberant form, sounding very much at the peak of his powers. The three
pieces without Mulligan are a lengthy “Bird Tapestry” of Charlie Parker songs, Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” which has
singer Margot Harrison and trumpeter Jimmy Maxwell in the spotlight, and a fine version of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.”
Among the other key soloists are trombonist Jimmy Knepper and trumpeters Mike Lawrence and Waymon Reed,
      
The National Jazz Ensemble helped pave the way for the Jazz At Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. This well-recorded set is easily
recommended to all jazz fans, particularly those who love Gerry Mulligan. It is available from www.dottimerecords.com.
                                                     

Aaron Irwin Quartet
A Room Forever
(Self-released)
      
The New York-based Aaron Irwin is best known for his inventive solos on alto-sax. A Room Forever is a bit of a change for he is
heard exclusively on clarinet, heading a quartet also featuring trombonist Matthew McDonald, guitarist Pete McCann and
bassist Thomson Kneeland.
      
Irwin’s quiet playing, which often emphasizes the lower register of his clarinet, is a bit reminiscent of Jimmy Giuffre. The same
can be said for the group, which always sounds relaxed, melodic and makes excellent use of space and dynamics. Performing a
dozen Irwin compositions, the quartet, while not a copy of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 of the 1950s, is a logical extension of that classic
cool jazz group. McDonald often harmonizes effectively with Irwin, McCann, who is mostly laidback, cuts loose on a few occasions
with some surprising and very fiery outbursts. Bassist Kneeland supplies much of the rhythm and holds the group together.
      
A Room Forever is filled with thought-provoking music that is subtle and rewards repeated listenings.
                                                      

Karen Shane
The Moon Is Blue
(Little Gables Music)

Lee Hartley
Whole Lotta Somethin’
(Self-Released)

Nancy Erickson
While Strolling Through The Park
(Vital Flame Productions)

Danny Barrett
Indian Summer
(DB)
      
Karen Shane, who has a beautiful voice and very appealing phrasing, picks superior vintage songs to interpret, always swings, is
a creative scat-singer, and fully understands the lyrics that she is interpreting. Considering her talents, it is surprising that The
Moon Is Blue is only her second CD so far as a leader. Accompanied by pianist Mike Levine, bassist Jamie Ousley, one of three
drummers and such guests as trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor-saxophonist Mark Small and guitarist John Hart, Ms. Shane is
heard throughout in prime form, making each of the 11 songs into memorable listening experiences. Among the many
highpoints are a spirited rendition of Jobim’s “This Happy Madness,” her scatting on “Line For Lyons," a double-time groove on
“The Boy Next Door,” Meredith d’Ambrosio’s “What Am I Invisible,” a jubilant “Gravy Waltz, ” a rare vocal version of Dizzy
Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” and a touching duet with pianist Levine on Dave Frishberg’s “You Are There.” In addition, she debuts the
original lyrics to Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” which predate those written by Norma Winstone  Any listener who enjoys jazz
singers will want to pick up The Moon Is Blue which is available from www.karenshane.com.
     
Lee Hartley, whose background includes singing gospel music, r&b and with a dance band, is an outstanding straight-ahead jazz
singer. On her self-produced Whole Lotta Somethin’ CD, she puts her own stamp on such songs as “Honeysuckle Rose” (which
features her forming a vocal group via overdubbing), a heartfelt “Cry Me A River,” a scat-filled “Four,” the soulful “Feel Like
Making Love,” a bluesy “Blue Moon” and five other songs including two of her originals. On various selections she is accompanied
by big bands led by Ted Herman and Pat Rizzo and a small group that features tenor-saxophonist Javon Jackson. Ms. Hartley’s
frequent musical partner Les McCann is also heard on keyboards in a few places. While the music, which is easily recommended
and available from www.leehartley.us, is quite fun, the packaging of her CD needs some help. The songs do not appear in the
same order as they are listed, and it is very difficult to figure out which bands and musicians appear on which selections. Those
reservations aside, Lee Hartley’s singing is impressive and joyful throughout her swinging set.
      
A skilled singer who is also an excellent songwriter, Nancy Erickson recently released her second CD, While Strolling Through
The Park. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Ms. Erickson has an appealing tone, does justice to lyrics and swings. On her CD she is
accompanied by pianist Darin Clendenin, bassist Clipper Anderson (who joins her for a warm vocal duet on “I Just Dropped By To
Say Hello”) and drummer Ken French. 5 of the 10 songs also include one of three horn players while singer Jacqueline Tabor joins
in on “The Whippoorwill Song.” Among the highlights are an inventive revival of the ancient “While Strolling Through The Park
One Day” (alternating between 5/4 and 4/4 time), a Latin jazz version of “Perdido” that is closer to Sarah Vaughan’s treatment
than to Ella’s,” an uptempo and scat-filled “That Old Black Magic,” a hot tenor solo from Alexey Nikolaev on “If Music Be The Food
Of Love” and the singer’s “New Year’s Eve.” This is a strong effort from an appealing and talented jazz singer, available from
www.nancyericksonsngs.com.
      
A veteran ballad singer with a powerful and deep voice, Danny Barrett is sometimes a little reminiscent of Billy Eckstine. On
Indian Summer, he performs 11 standards including a three-song medley. In addition to pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Kenny
Davis and drummer Billy Drummond, Barrett is assisted on various selections by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, tenor-saxophonist
Jerry Weldon and Dave Valentin on flute, each of whom have some solo space. Barrett’s rich baritone is particularly rewarding
on “Isn’t It A Pity” and “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful.” He always lets the music breathe, pauses in the best spots,
and puts plenty of feeling into the lyrics. A surprisingly uptempo version of “How Am I To Know” and a “Baseball Interlude” that
has him singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” along with a spoken word section by James Randolph that pays tribute to Jackie
Robinson give the set variety. Danny Barrett has recorded several rewarding sets during the past decade. Indian Summer
(available from www.dannybarrett.com) is one of his best.
                                                    

The Jim Cullum Jazz Band
Porgy and Bess Live
(Riverwalk Jazz)

     
Back in 1987, trumpeter Jim Cullum and his band recorded one of their finest recordings, a jazz adaptation of the music of Porgy
and Bess. Rather than just play the best-known songs, their album featured 22 themes from the opera.
      
To celebrate the 25th and final year that Cullum’s band is being featured on their famous radio series Live From The Riverwalk,
a two-CD set of music from Porgy and Bess has been released. On the minus side, the group’s personnel is inexcusably not listed
anywhere, nor is the recording date. William Warfield, who is in the role of narrator, passed away in 2002 and these radio
broadcasts might have been from as long as a decade before that.
      
That reservation aside, this set is even more complete than the studio version, with the musicians exploring no less than 28
themes from the opera. In addition to “Summertime,” “I Loves You Porgy” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” one gets to hear such
obscurities as “Jasbo Brown Blues,” “It Takes A Long Pull To Get There” and “Strawberry Woman.” Warfield’s interludes tie the
story together and he is heard in a backstage interview after the show, but otherwise all of the music is comprised of
instrumentals. One really gets an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate George Gershwin’s rich score during these hot jazz
performances.
      
Despite not knowing who is playing much of the time beyond Cullum and probably pianist John Sheridan (he contributed the
colorful arrangements), Porgy and Bess Live, which is available from www.cityhallrecords.com, is highly recommended.
                                                

Kirsten Edkins
Art & Soul
(Self-Released)

Kirsten Edkins, an impressive young saxophonist who is equally skilled on tenor, alto and soprano, makes her recording debut as
a leader on Art & Soul, which is available from www.kirstenedkins.com. She mostly performs modern hard bop originals.
     
The saxophonist swings throughout with a rhythm section that features Larry Goldings on piano and organ, bassist Mike Valerio
and drummer Mark Ferber. Her guests on various selections are guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter Mike Cottone, trombonist
Ryan Dragon, and her teacher and mentor Bob Sheppard on tenor and bass clarinet.
      
The music covers a fair amount of ground. “Big B.” is a happy jazz funk groove piece a la Eddie Harris with Goldings’ organ in a
prominent role. Edkins’ soprano and trombonist Dragon co-star on “Good Blues” and the funky jazz blues “Mean Greens” (which
has Edkins switching to alto). “Soul Eyes” (made famous by John Coltrane) is given a fresh treatment with the leader’s tenor
only hinting now and then at Coltrane. Her tenor is particularly fluent on “Imagineering,” an uptempo runthrough on the
chords of “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.” “The Bug” is a slow whimsical blues waltz on which her soprano interacts with
Sheppard’s bass clarinet. “Stompin’ Ground” (based on “Groovin’ High”) has strong trombone and tenor solos while Edkins
stretches out on soprano during “Art & Soul.” The closer, a spirited “No Ordinary Joe,” is a tribute to Joe LaBarbera and his band
although, with its three-horn frontline, the group sounds a bit like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
      
All in all, Art & Soul is a strong debut from Kirsten Edkins, a talented saxophonist who clearly has a great future in jazz.