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Los Angeles Jazz Scene - CD Reviews
                   May 2016
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Ehud Asherie
Shuffle Along
(Blue Heron)
      
Shuffle Along, which featured music by Eubie Blake and the lyrics of Noble Sissle, was the first African-American musical to play
on Broadway. In addition to its 484 Broadway performances during 1921-22, the show toured the U.S. for three years. Its main
hit was “I’m Just Wild About Harry” which was used as a campaign song for Harry Truman 26 years later.
      
Pianist Ehud Asherie celebrates the music of Shuffle Along 95 years after its debut with this excellent solo set. Ahserie performs
eight songs from the play including “I’m Cravin’ For That Kind Of Love,” “If You’ve Never Been Vamped By A Brownskin,” “Love
Will Find A Way” and two versions of “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” While Asherie does not necessarily sound like a pianist from
1921, he often strides creatively within the 1920s style while occasionally looking ahead towards swing and Art Tatum. He
keeps the Eubie Blake themes close by throughout his improvisations and plays with enthusiasm and a steady flow of fresh ideas.
      
Whether for those who wish to remember the legacy of Shuffle Along or listeners who simply enjoy vintage jazz piano, Shuffle
Along is easily recommended. It is available from www.blueheronrecords.com.


Jason Miles
To Grover With Love – Live In Japan
(Whaling City Sound)
      
Jason Miles was a fan of Grover Washington Jr. long before he had the opportunity to work with him on several occasions.
Washington had distinctive sounds on soprano, alto and tenor, was a very skilled musician, and created his own brand of modern
soul jazz which was both accessible and creative. It was a shock when the very popular saxophonist suddenly passed away in
1999 from a heart attack when he was just 56.

Prior to this new release, Miles had recorded two previous Grover Washington Jr. tribute albums: To Grover With Love and 2
Grover With Love. After producing an excellent CD of previously unreleased Washington live performances, in 2010 he put
together a tribute band that performed ten shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo. The music on this CD is drawn from those
performances.

Miles heads a septet that features both Andy Snitzer and Eric Darius on tenors, guitarist Nick Moroch, bassist Gerald Veasley,
drummer Buddy Williams and, in one of his last performances, the late percussionist Ralph MacDonald. Singer Ryan Shaw guests
on “Just The Two Of Us.” While one misses Washington’s sound on alto and soprano, the two tenors display both Washington’s
influence and their own soulful musical personalities during their solos and their interplay with each other. The music grooves
throughout and the highlights include “Winelight,” “Inner City Blues,” a lengthy “Let It Flow” and “Mr. Magic.”
     
While it will not substitute for Grover Washington Jr.’s own recordings, To Grover With Love – Live In Japan often comes close,
succeeding as a heartfelt tribute to the influential and beloved musician. The spirited set is available from www.
whalingcitysound.com.


Mario Duenas
Beliefs
(Self-Released)

Keyboardist-composer Mario Dueñas was born and raised in Ecuador and is now based in Chicago. After many musical
experiences as a sideman and a leader, he makes his recording debut as a leader on Beliefs.
      
This CD features Mario Duenas playing unaccompanied solos on electric keyboards. Dedicated to God, it consists of six
spontaneous compositions that are thoughtful, often melodic and develop logically. The titles (“God,” “Other Minds,” “Time,”
“Love,” “Free Will” and “Afterlife”) cover wide areas of life and philosophy, subjects that have been thought about for eternity.
Duenas has said that the music on Beliefs is inspired by “the human desire to understand the nature of reality.” A rather
philosophical individual, Duenas believes in the importance of regularly questioning one’s beliefs about life, and in seeking to
know rather than just to believe.
      
The improvisations on Beliefs are melodic, logical, thought-provoking and generally peaceful. The opening “God” is quiet and
reverential before becoming a little playful. “Other Minds” is energetic and musically inquisitive while “Time” evolves and
builds up quickly. “Love” is a ballad that (not too surprisingly) is a bit romantic. “Free Will” is the cooker of the set, an uptempo
romp that has its exciting moments. The program concludes with the mysterious but ultimately straightforward “Afterlife.”
      
Beliefs is an impressive debut for Mario Dueñas, available from www.marioduenasmusic.com.
                                                  

Dr. Lonnie Smith
Evolution
(Blue Note)
      
Dr. Lonnie Smith recorded five albums for Blue Note during 1968-70 and then, after a 45-year “vacation,” recently returned to
the label. Smith has been far from inactive in the interim, gaining recognition as one of jazz’s most significant organists.
      
Evolution has Smith and his trio with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jonathan Blake joined on various numbers by
Joe Dyson on second drums, John Ellis on tenor, bass clarinet and flute, and Maurice Brown or Keyon Harrold on trumpet. Joe
Lovano adds his soprano to “Afrodesia” while the first solo heard on the CD is by pianist Robert Glasper on “Play It Back,” his only
appearance during the set.
      
While some of the music is straight ahead, most of the music (five Smith originals plus “Straight No Chaser” and “My Favorite
Things’) is funky soul jazz. While the music is filled with infectious grooves, the playing is never simplistic. Smith has long had
his own sound on organ and he adds a powerful atmosphere to most of the ensembles along with a distinctive solo style. Kreisberg
and Ellis are the key sidemen, taking solos that add to the momentum and drive of the music.
      
Hopefully Dr. Lonnie Smith will get to record for Blue Note again before another 45 years pass! Evolution is available from www.
bluenote.com.
                                                      

Misha Tsiganov
Spring Feelings
(Criss Cross)

Jim Rotondi
Dark Blue
(Smoke Sessions)

Renee Rosnes
Written In The Rocks
(Smoke Sessions)
      
Hard bop lives! Although often overshadowed by later musical developments, hard bop is the foundation for much of modern jazz
even 50 years after the peak of its popularity. The majority of the music on these three recent releases is comprised of originals
that are inspired but not copies of the music of the 1960s.

Pianist Misha Tsiganov, who was born and raised in Russia but has long lived in the U.S., writes and arranges complex music
that swings. His chord changes are original, many of the rhythmic accents are unexpected, and he sometimes utilizes several
meters or tempos within a song. The opening “You And The Night And The Music” finds the standard retaining its melody while
being drastically reharmonized and shifting between 4/4, 3/4 and 9/8 time. Among the other highlights are the lone trio
feature on his ballad “October In Kiev” (one of Tsignavo’s five originals), a reinvented and hard-swinging version of Wayne
Shorter’s “Yes Or No,”  the catchy and happy “Spring Feelings” and the many tempos utilized on “The Night Has A Thousand
Eyes.” With the great trumpeter/flugelhornist Alex Sipiagin creating warm and effortless solos, Seamus Blake’s muscular tenor
being well featured and near-telepathic support from bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Donald Edwards, Tsiganov has the
perfect musicians to interpret his potentially difficult but hard-swinging music. Spring Feelings, available from www.
crisscrossjazz.com, has plenty of explosive and memorable moments along with consistently inventive playing from Misha
Tsiganov and makes for an enjoyable listen.
      
When it comes to playing modern mainstream jazz today, it would be difficult to improve upon the group that trumpeter Jim
Rotondi gathered together for Dark Blue. Joe Locke has been one of the unheralded greats of the vibraphone for the past two
decades, pianist David Hazeltine (who doubles on Fender Rhodes) is an underrated giant who has uplifted the music on a
countless number of sessions, bassist David Wong always keeps the music swinging, and Carl Allen is one of the top drummers in
the field. With Rotondi contributing solos that are inspired by Freddie Hubbard’s tone and the ideas of Hubbard, Lee Morgan and
Clifford Brown among others, and Locke and Hazeltine adding concise and colorful statements, the quintet digs into six of the
leader’s originals, one by Hazeltine and fresh versions of three standards. Each of the ten performances is relaxed even when the
tempo is blazing. Of the originals, the atmospheric “Deep Blue,” Hazeltine’s “Highline,” the blues “Le Crest” and the uptempo
closer “Going To the Sun” are particularly memorable. In addition, the upbeat rendition of “Pure Imagination” and the greatly
uplifted version of the formerly corny “Our Day Will Come” are delightful.
      
On Written In The Rocks, pianist Renee Rosnes creates new music that stretches the hard bop idiom altogether, making any
simple classification inaccurate. The centerpiece of her CD is the seven-part ”Galapagos Suite,” a very impressive work that deals
with evolution and the beginning of mankind. Strong and inventive playing is contributed by vibraphonist Steve Nelson, Steve
Wilson on flute, soprano and alto, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Bill Stewart. The music, which is consistently powerful
and colorful, includes original themes, dynamic solos and lots of interplay between piano and vibes that sometimes recalls Chick
Corea and Gary Burton or the sound of the George Shearing Quintet. In addition to “The Galapagos Suite,” Ms. Rosnes and her
musicians also perform two other pieces including one (“From Here To A Star”) based on “How Deep Is The Ocean.” Renee Rosnes
is heard at her best, both instrumentally and in her writing, throughout this highly recommended set. Both Written In The
Rocks and Joe Rotondi’s Dark Blue are available from www.smokesessionsrecords.com.


Brian Browne/Steve Berndt
All Over Again
(Self-Released)
          
Two years ago, singer Steve Berndt and pianist Brian Browne teamed up for the excellent duet album Déjà Vu. Their new CD,
which in its title completes Yogi Berra’s famous phrase (“Déjà Vu All Over Again”), is even better.
          
Steve Berndt has a strong voice, a very appealing sound, and is always perfectly-in-tune. He does justice to the words that he
interprets (fully understanding the lyrics), which is obvious in his phrasing and his emphasis of certain words. His long tones are
a joy and he has a jazz sensibility even when singing fairly straight, always swinging.
          
Brian Browne is a veteran pianist who has been a major asset on the Canadian jazz scene for quite some time. He is a full rhythm
section by himself, and whether leaving space or adding a powerful bassline, he is a perfect match for the singer. The two often
seem to think and breathe as one.
          
The opener, “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” sets the stage for the CD. It begins slow and out-of-tempo with Steve Berndt really getting
into the words while Brian Browne contributes some closely attentive piano. By the last part of the first chorus it builds in
momentum and is in tempo. Browne plays some excellent swing piano and the piece is cooking by the time Berndt returns. The
singer, with some perfectly placed high notes, brings the piece to an exciting conclusion.
          
The other performances follow similar paths. The team of Berndt and Browne revitalize such songs as “”The More I See You”
“Mona Lisa,” a particularly joyful “September In The Rain,” “’Round Midnight” and “Candy.” The songs may be familiar but
these renditions are spirited, quietly inventive and full of subtle surprises. A bonus is the title cut, the moody ballad “All Over
Again” which is an original well worth hearing.
          
All Over Again is a classy set that is highly recommended and available from www.steveberndt.com.
                                                            

Lori Bell
Brooklyn Dreaming
(Self-released)

Not very long ago, jazz releases on artist-owned independent labels often looked a bit amateurish, but no longer. Lori Bell’s
Brooklyn Dreaming (available from www.loribellflute.com) is a first class CD on all levels including its packaging. Ms. Bell heads
an all-star quartet featuring the great pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek during three
standards and six originals. All of Bell’s pieces have titles that have something to do with New York and Brooklyn where she was
born and grew up.

Lori Bell has long been one of the top flutists in jazz and her playing on Brooklyn Dreaming is heard at its prime. Her set includes
such highlights as a fairly rare version of Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square,” a hot “I Got Rhythm” jam on “52nd
Street Theme,” the picturesque ballad “Brooklyn Dreaming,” a cooking “A Dog On Coney,” the harmonically challenging “Lower
Manhattan,” and a 5/4 version of “Harlem Nocturne.” Bell, whether on the C-flute or alto flute, never runs out of creative ideas,
the virtuosic Hendelman has many chances to stretch out, and both Thiroux and Witek always keep the music swinging.

Brooklyn Dreaming, which is easily recommended, is a perfect way to be introduced to the excellent playing of Lori Bell.
                                               

Brian Bromberg
Full Circle
(Artistry Music)
      
Brian Bromberg is a brilliant bassist who has mastered the art of tapping and has had success with both his straight ahead and
smooth recordings. When playing the piccolo bass, he has the ability to sound just like a guitarist, whether displaying the
influence of Wes Montgomery or Jimi Hendrix. But even with the variety and versatility that he has shown in his career so far,
Full Circle is a unique recording.
      
I never thought I would ever hear Brian Bromberg playing the two Dixieland standards “Jazz Me Blues” and “Washington And
Lee Swing” which serve as bookends for this CD. As he relates in the liner notes, his father Howard Bromberg was a drummer
who in the mid-1940s had the opportunity to sit in with many of the greats on the New York jazz scene. After a period in the Air
Force, he settled in Tucson and continued playing on a part-time basis. Around 1950 he recorded those two songs while joined by
a local trumpeter, trombonist and an inaudible pianist. Bromberg and pianist Randy Waldman overdubbed their parts on the
recordings (which were greatly cleaned up) and fit in perfectly, sounding as if they were on the original session.
      
Brian Bromberg played drums as a youth before switching to cello and eventually bass. After recording the two vintage songs
next to his late father, he was inspired to take up the drums again. Bromberg performs nine of his originals on acoustic bass,
piccolo bass (taking the lead and sounding like a jazz guitarist) and drums via overdubbing. He is joined on various selections by
either Bob Sheppard or Doug Webb on tenor, either Waldman or Mitch Forman on piano, an occasional horn section, vibraphonist
Craig Fundyga on a duet version of “Susumu’s Blues,” and a Latin jazz group with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and pianist
Otmaro Ruiz for “Havana Nights.”
      
Most of the music on Full Circle is quite exciting, particularly the heated “Sneaky Pete,” the infectious “Havana Nights,” “Bernie’
s Bop’ and “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” “Naw’lins” begins with New Orleans parade rhythms before becoming hot bebop.
The group on the relaxed “Saturday Night In The Village” could pass for the Wes Montgomery Quartet. On most of the selections
Bromberg takes both “guitar” (piccolo bass) and string bass solos and there are many spots for the pianists and the tenors, with
Sandoval helping out on “Havana Nights.”
      
Full Circle, one of Brian Bromberg’s finest recordings, is available from www.mackavenue.com.
                                                   

Black Olive Jazz
Exotica
(SF Sound)

Randa
Subtle Thrills
(Luna)

Jane Harvey
Sings Ellington – One To One
(Little Jazz Bird)

Nancy Harms
Ellington At Night
(Gazelle)
      
Black Olive Jazz is a group from the San Francisco Bay area that features the warm singer Kay Kostopoulos and the veteran Noel
Jewkes on tenor, alto, soprano and flute. Exotica was an idea conceived by Kostopoulous, Jewkes (who provided the
arrangements) and pianist Grant Levin. The singer, whose background is in theater, wanted to perform dramatic material that
could be considered both exotic and modern jazz. The concept works quite well on such pieces as “Bali Hai,” Horace Silver’s “”
Enchantment” (on which Ms. Kostopoulos added new lyrics), “Slow Hot Wind” a slightly spooky “Never Never Land” and
“Caravan.” With vocals that range from powerful to tender, a lot of spots for Jewkes to display his versatility and swinging ideas,
and two guest appearances by pianist Larry Vuckovich, this is a very successful set. Kay Kostopoulos’ perfect pitch allows her to
sing wordlessly on the more atmospheric pieces such as “Lotus Land,” and to engage in close interplay with Jewkes. Exotica is
recommended and available from www.blackolivejazz.com.
      
Randa was born in Lebanon and spent time living in Beirut, Africa, France and England before settling in Montreal twenty years
ago. While she has worked as a journalist, she has recorded her own CDs since 2002, often utilizing major artists. Randa has a
direct yet subtle style, a pleasing voice, and she has a solid sense of swing. On her fourth CD, Subtle Thrills, she performs
standards while accompanied by pianist-keyboardist Cyrus Chestnut (who contributed the arrangements), bassist Dezron
Douglas and drummer Lewis Nash. Antonio Hart (alto and soprano) and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix guest on two songs apiece.
The repertoire includes fresh versions of “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Get Out Of Town,” Sting’s ”Fragile” and “Blue Moon” among
its 11 songs. Throughout this enjoyable set, Randa is heard in fine form. Subtle Thrills is available from www.randamusic.com.
      
Jane Harvey, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 88, had a long and unique career. When she was 19 in 1944, she recorded a
few excellent performances with Benny Goodman. While she never became famous, on several occasions during the decades that
followed, she made a “comeback” with a new recording; all are at least excellent. Along the way she was married and divorced to
producer Bob Thiele, worked with the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, made obscure but little-known records with Duke Ellington and Les
Paul, and late in her career gained attention for her album The Jazz Side Of Sondheim. Jane Harvey always seemed to be
remarkably ageless in both her appearance and her singing. One To One was recorded just eight months before her death and,
although her gentle voice is a little weaker in spots than earlier, she still sounds very much in her musical prime. This set of
duets has four collaborations with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, five with pianist Mike Renzi and seven with guitarist Ron Eschete.
While there are a generous number of ballads, Ms. Harvey also swings well on the medium-tempo material. In addition to such
standards as “In a Mellow Tone,’ “I Got It Bad,” “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and “Love You Madly,” she performs “The
Sky Fell Down,” an Ellington tune on which she wrote the lyrics (with Duke’s blessing). One To One, available from www.
amazon.com, is an impressive final act from Jane Harvey.
      
Nancy Harms’ tribute to Duke Ellington, Ellington At Night, is an unusual and often-haunting set of music. Ms. Harms’
interpretations are often dramatic. Like a folk singer, she puts a lot of emphasis (along with deep understanding) in the lyrics
along with a deep understanding that allows her to uncover some well-hidden beauty. In addition to a few of the Ellington
standards and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Ms. Harms, who never wastes a note, revives such obscure and surprising pieces as
“Lost In Meditation,” “Troubled Waters” (recorded but not composed by Ellington), “Long, Strong And Consecutive,’ “Strange
Feeling” and “Reflections.” She is joined by pianist Jeremy Siskind, bassist Danton Boller, drummer Willie Jones III. and (on two
songs) a string quartet. While Nancy Harms swings on the medium-tempo pieces, it is the ballads that are given the most
original and memorable treatments. Ellington At Night, available from www.nancyharmscom, is well worth exploring.