Alexa Fila/Sal Mosca
A Work Of Art
Barbara Dane is a legendary singer (long based in the San Francisco Bay area) who, starting in the 1950s, performed
high-quality music in several genres. She could sing creative classic blues a la Bessie Smith, 1920s jazz, trad jazz,
swing, lowdown electric country blues, and folk music. Ms. Dane performed with the likes of Turk Murphy, Louis
Armstrong (on TV), Jack Teagarden, Wilbur DeParis, Art Hodes, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Mose
Allison, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, and T-Bone Walker. Always a social activist fighting for civil rights, she was
also a solo folk singer-guitarist.
Throw It Away, which is probably her first recording in 20 years, features Barbara Dane at the age of 88. While her
voice naturally shows her age a bit, she still has a pleasing tone, an enthusiastic delivery, and an inquisitive musical
spirit She is joined by the versatile pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Ruth Davies, drummer Bill Maginnis, her son Pablo
Menendez who plays harmonica on three numbers and soprano-saxophonist Richard Hadlock (guesting on “All Too
Soon”). Her material ranges from classic jazz/blues (including Memphis Minnie’s “I’m Sellin’ My Porkchops” which
looks back in style towards the 1920s blues singers) to the Abbey Lincoln title cut, from individual interpretations of
songs by Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and the Beatles to Lu Watters’ “Blues Over Bodega,” a transformation of “My
Babe” into “My Brain” (with the help of Mose Allison), and Fats Waller’s “How Can You Face Me.” A highlight is Duke
Ellington’s “All Too Soon” for which the vocalist wrote lyrics that bring out new meanings in the song. All in all, this
is an impressive effort for an ageless singer that is available from www.barbaradane.net.
While her roots are in 1960s post bop jazz rather than the 1920s, Nora McCarthy can be thought of as a logical
extension of Barbara Dane. A poet who also sings very well, she believes in every word that she interprets. She has a
powerful voice (check out her last note on “Restless Mind”), wrote all of the lyrics and arrangements for Blessings
(including for McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” and Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing”), and also composed four of the
ten pieces. She is joined by The People Of Peace Quintet, a group that includes her longtime musical partner altoist
Jorge Sylvester (a brilliant player who is heard in top form), pianist Pablo Vergara, electric bassist Donald Nicks and
drummer Kenny Grohowski whose playing is particularly catchy on “Passion Dance.” There are many fine solos
heard throughout the set with the singer taking her turn next to the instrumentalists. The music includes moody
ballads and heated romps. Nora McCarthy’s adventurous improvising is on a high level along with the intelligence of
her lyrics, making Blessings (available from www.redzenrecords.com) one of her most rewarding recordings.
Singer Alexa Fila began taking lessons with the late pianist Sal Mosca a couple of decades ago. She studied with him
for quite a few years and in 2005 they recorded the 13 selections that are being released for the first time on A Work
Of Art. Mosca, a student of Lennie Tristano’s, developed his own personal style through the years and became an
influential teacher himself, On this set of standards, the music is freely improvised. While Alexa Fila, who has an
attractive voice, mostly sticks reasonably close to the melody and lyrics of these vintage songs while displaying her
own phrasing, Mosca (whose playing is subtle throughout) adds a lot of creativity. Sometimes he plays out of tempo or
reharmonizes the songs while on other occasions his accompaniment is pretty, melodic and quiet. He serves both the
tunes and the singer while avoiding the predictable, creating a particularly colorful solo on “How Deep Is The Ocean.”
Other highlights include “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” “Over
The Rainbow” and “Skylark.” A Work Of Art rewards repeated listenings and is available from North Country
Distributors at www.cadencebuilding.com.
Diane Witherspoon has always been a swinging singer, one whose perfect placement of notes is frequently irresistible.
Live, recorded at a Berkeley concert on Feb. 8, 2014, was recorded right before some serious health problems slowed
down her career. Assisted by pianist Lee Bloom, bassist Josh Thurston-Milgrom and drummer Myron Cohen, Ms.
Witherspoon is in top form throughout the set. She had gained some acclaim for her interpretations of Cedar Walton’s
originals which were given lyrics by John and Paula Hackett. This set includes three Walton pieces (one with the
pianist’s lyrics) plus Kenny Barron’s “Child’s Play” and Teddy Edwards’ “L.A. After Dark,” both which also have the
Hacketts’ words. However some of the highpoints are a few of the standards including “Quiet Nights” and an
emotional “Wild Is The Wind,” plus such bluesy material Edward’s “Don’t Touch Me,” “Let The Good Times Roll” and ”
Centerpiece.” Diane Witherspoon never seemed to record often enough, making Live a particularly valuable addition
to her musical legacy. It is available from www.lifeforce.bigcartel.com.
Blue Note, Chicago, March 1956
Jeri Southern (1926-91) was a very talented singer with a cool and haunting tone. She always sang perfectly in-
tune, put plenty of quiet feeling and understanding into the lyrics she interpreted, and swung. She was also an
excellent jazz pianist who not only accompanied her own singing but took consistently inventive solos. She was in her
prime during the 1950s but was shy and had anxiety about performing, particularly in the louder venues. She
retired altogether in 1962, spending her last three decades primarily as a teacher.
While many of Southern’s studio recordings emphasized ballads, this live set of previously unreleased music also
features her performing some of the songs at faster tempos. Joined by bassist Al Bruno and drummer Mickey
Simonetta, she sings such numbers as “You Better Go Now,” “Dancing On The Ceiling,” “Too Late Now,” “When I Fall
In Love” (which she introduced five years earlier) and a surprisingly slow and touching version of “Too Marvelous For
Words.” A strong mixture of torch songs and medium-tempo swing pieces, Blue Note, Chicago, March 1956 is well
recorded and an excellent introduction to the artistry of Jeri Southern. The set, which includes very informative
liner notes by Kirk Silsbee, is available from www.uptownrecords.net.
Carol Sloane has been a major jazz singer since at least 1961-62 when she recorded her classic album Out Of The Blue.
Despite her talents, she was almost completely unrecorded during 1964-76. Sophisticated Lady, performed in Tokyo
in 1977, brought her back to records. It was the first of her series of albums for Japanese labels (some of which were
later released in the U.S.) before signing with Concord in 1988. It is fortunate that Japanese jazz audiences adopted
her music for many of her albums are gems, especially Sophisticated Lady. Joined by pianist Sir Roland Hanna,
bassist George Mraz and drummer Richie Pratt, Carol Sloane performs a full set of Duke Ellington’s music which also
includes two versions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” and a swinging and scat-filled version of “Satin Doll”
which was co-written by Ellington and Strayhorn. Her versions of Duke’s songs are concise (clocking in between 1:43-
5:14) and get their point across quickly but also contain their share of surprises. A medley of “I Let A Song Go Out Of
My Heart” and “Do Nothing Till You Hear From You” (a duet with bassist Mraz) is an excellent display for her lovely
voice and swinging placement of notes. Other highpoints include an uptempo (if brief) “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” an
unaccompanied version of “Come Sunday” and an inventive revival of “Mood Indigo” on which she recalls Ella
Fitzgerald a bit in her tone.
Carol Sloane, who is still active, deserves to be celebrated as one of the greats. Sophisticated Lady (available for www.
jazzology.com) is highly recommended.
Count Basie and Lester Young
Classic 1936-1947 Studio Sessions
The Decca recordings of the Count Basie Orchestra during 1937-39 are some of the most famous and beloved
performances of the era. Fresh from Kansas City, the Basie band made a major impact on the swing era. In addition to
such soloists as trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry “Sweets” Edison, trombonist Dicky Wells, and tenor-saxophonists
Lester Young and Herschel Evans, plus the great swing and blues singer Jimmy Rushing, the floating Basie rhythm
section (with the leader on piano, rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, bassist Walter Page and drummer Jo Jones) had a
much lighter sound than that heard in virtually all other big bands. They changed the way that swing was played,
as can be heard on their classic recordings of “One O’Clock Jump,” “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” “Topsy,” and “Sent
For You Yesterday and Here You Come Today.”
This limited-edition eight-CD box set from Mosaic, which is available from www.mosaicrecords.com, has all of the
Basie Decca recordings including a previously unknown alternate take of “Honeysuckle Rose” and a session by just
the rhythm section. But it also includes much more.
Lester Young, the revolutionary tenor-saxophonist who sounded like he was playing a completely different
instrument than Coleman Hawkins (the first giant of the tenor), had a very light tone, floated over bar lines, and was
the epitome of cool. All of his studio dates as a sideman and a leader from 1936-47, with the exception of his
recordings with Billie Holiday, a set with Glenn Hardman’s Hammond Five, and his Savoy sessions (one date as a
leader and one apiece headed by Johnny Guarnieri and Earle Warren) are also on this essential reissue. His Columbia
dates with Basie are absent since they were previously released on another Mosaic box set.
In addition to “Honeysuckle Rose,” included are three other previously unreleased alternate takes. Each one is from
Lester Young’s recorded debut with a 1936 quintet (called Jones-Smith Incorporated) that also includes Basie and
trumpeter Carl “Tatti” Smith. In addition to intriguing new versions of “Boogie Woogie” and "Evenin’” (both of which
feature Rushing’s singing), there is a very important alternate take of “Lady Be Good.” Lester Young’s solo on the
originally issued version of “Lady Be Good” is an absolutely perfect two choruses of creative invention, one that has
been quoted by many other artists including Lee Konitz (who has often recreated the full solo). The question has long
been “Was it worked out ahead of time or was it improvised?” The alternate take proves the latter because, with the
exception of a few moments, it is completely different than the famous solo and rewarding by itself. That he could
make up his famous “Lady Be Good” solo on the spot is additional evidence of Lester Young’s genius.
The Mosaic box set also features Lester Young with a Teddy Wilson combo, Benny Goodman’s big band (“Ti-Pi-Tin”),
singer-pianist Una Mae Carlisle (including on a song called “Blitzkrieg Baby, You Can’t Bomb Me”), Sammy Price’s
Texas Blusicians, a remarkable date led by Dicky Wells (which finds the trombonist at the peak of his powers), with
Helen Humes and on three sessions by the Kansas City Six and Seven. The latter mostly finds Young interacting with
Basie sidemen and sometimes doubling on clarinet. On 1938’s “I Want A Little Girl,” Young on clarinet sounds
exactly like altoist Paul Desmond did 20 years later, both in tone and choice of notes!
As a leader, Lester Young is showcased with pianist Nat King Cole and bassist Red Callender in 1942, on a 1944
quartet set that is highlighted by a classic version of “Sometimes I’m Happy,” a 1946 trio encounter with Nat King
Cole and Buddy Rich, and his Aladdin sessions from 1945-47. Taken as a whole, these are some of Young’s finest
recordings of all time.
While most of this music has been available on other reissues, the 48-page Lp-size booklet, the impeccable sound, and
just being able to have all of these classic recordings together in one box makes this Mosaic set absolutely essential for
anyone interested in swing, Count Basie and Lester Young.
Sonny Rollins Trio
Live In Europe 1959 – Complete Recordings
(Essential Jazz Classics)
As 1958 ended, tenor-saxophonist Sonny Rollins could already look back on a remarkable career. In 1949 he had
made his recording debut with singer Babs Gonzales and had held his own on a classic bop date with pianist Bud
Powell and trumpeter Fats Navarro. He worked with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and as a member of the Clifford
Brown/Max Roach Quintet. By the mid-1950s Rollins and John Coltrane were the top young tenors in jazz. Rollins led
such classic record dates as Work Time, Tenor Madness, Saxophone Colossus, Way Out West, Freedom Suite, and
Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. He was still just 28 as he embarked on a European tour.
To the surprise of virtually everyone, Rollins retired from active performing after the tour ended, not re-emerging for
three years. While at the time there was much speculation and many theories discussed about why he left the scene,
the truth was that the tenor-saxophonist had simply become a bit bored with his own playing and wanted to take
time off and practice. He had heard Ornette Coleman and was well aware of Coltrane’s rapid progress and he wanted
to forge his own path in the new music. When he came back in 1962 with The Bridge, Rollins first solidified his hard
bop playing and then found a fresh way of exploring freer forms of jazz.
This three CD set from the European Essential Jazz Classics label (which is available form www.jazzmessengers.com)
has all of the existing music from Rollins’ European tour. While most of it has been out before, it had mostly only been
available on bootleg Lps that had inferior sound. Now it can be heard complete (with four previously unreleased
songs) and with greatly improved sound.
Rollins is joined by bassist Henry Grimes and usually drummer Pete La Roca. Joe Harris takes La Roca’s place on the
unreleased material while the final concert has Kenny Clarke on drums. Recorded during March 2-11, 1959, these
performances feature Rollins taking long and consistently inventive solos on such pieces as “St. Thomas,” “Oleo,”
“Paul’s Pal,” “I’ve Told Every Little Star,” “I Want To Be Happy,” “Woody ‘N You” and “Lazy Bird” among others.
Grimes, who made an inspiring comeback a decade ago, has his share of solos and there are many tradeoffs between
Rollins and the drummers, but the focus is mostly on the leader.
Sonny Rollins may have become a bit bored with his career, but there is nothing dull about his playing throughout
this consistently inventive program. He “retired” on top.
Once Upon A Time Called…Right Now!
In his career, trumpeter Winston Byrd has performed with a wide variety of big bands and jazz combos in addition to
ensembles accompanying popular acts. He is both a lead trumpeter inspired by Maynard Ferguson and Arturo
Sandoval, and a top-notch jazz improviser whose inspirations include Dizzy Gillespie, Jon Faddis and Clark Terry. The
diversity and eclectic nature of his career and his musical interests are reflected throughout his debut for the
Ropeadope label, a consistently impressive effort. Byrd and his co-producer Gio Washington-Wright arranged most of
the pieces and contributed two originals.
The CD begins with a surprise, a version of the Ornette Coleman blues “Ramblin’” that sounds as if it is being
interpreted by Miles Davis’ group circa 1970-71 (the Live/Evil period). The dense rhythm section is both funky and
creative while Byrd’s trumpet is electrified. The wild performance includes brief organ and drums solos, a tradeoff of
tenor and guitar, and many ensembles with Byrd in the lead. The music gears shift immediately with the second
piece, an Andrew Lloyd Weber composition (“On This Night Of A Thousand Ears”) that is transformed into stirring
Latin jazz. “Brotherhood Of Man” is the first of two tributes to the late great Clark Terry. Byrd and fellow trumpeter
George Rabbai co-star, emulating Terry’s work with the plunger mute, recreating a couple of Terry’s choruses, and
trading off with plenty of spirit and fire. C.T. would have loved it.
Eric Otis (the grandson of the great Gerald Wilson) contributed “Grandma Jo’s House” which features Byrd’s muted
trumpet and Brian O’Rourke’s electric piano on a jazz waltz. The rockish “Borrowed Time” has Byrd in the lead with a
large ensemble, hinting at his extensive work with big bands. Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk” is taken for
quite a ride with Byrd’s piccolo trumpet hinting at Jon Faddis in spots. His playing is warm and emotional on the
ballad “Anne Rising.” Clark Terry’s uptempo blues “Mumbles” is given a rollicking treatment with the leader and
George Rabbai trading phrases in their humorous scat-singing. Guitarist Julian Coryell guests effectively on the
brooding “Times.” The colorful set concludes with the funky ballad “Brown Eyes” (with Mark Zier featured on piano)
and the contemporary r&b piece “One Life, One Love.”
With all of its variety and diversity, Once Upon A Time Called…Right Now (available from www.ropeadope.com) is
an excellent showcase for the talented Winston Byrd, a trumpeter who is on the brink of gaining the recognition that
Jeremy Monteiro & Alberto Marsico
Jeremy Monteiro and Jazz Brasileiro
Jeremy Monteiro is a top veteran jazz pianist who is based in Singapore and has performed throughout the world. He
has worked along the way with James Moody, Herbie Mann, Michael Brecker, Ernie Watts and Charlie Haden among
others, leading at least 20 CDs of his own. These two sets feature the pianist in different settings.
Jazz-Blues Brothers puts the emphasis on the soulful side of jazz. Bluesy solos are contributed by organist Alberto
Marsico (who is in the Jimmy Smith/Charles Earland tradition), tenor-saxophonist Shawn Letts and guitarist
Eugene Pao in addition to Monteiro while drummer Shawn Kelley contributes swinging support. The music (originals
by Monteiro and Marsico plus a tasteful rendition of “Here, There & Everywhere”) is accessible but never simplistic.
While there are some r&bish grooves, the solos and arrangements are quite sophisticated. A lengthy “Monk In The
Mountain,” the funky “Mount Olive” and the rapid closer “Catastrophy” are among the highpoints with Monteiro
taking a heated solo on “Jack-Pot” that is worthy of Ramsey Lewis at his best.
Brazilian Dreams is inspired by the Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto bossa-nova recordings of the 1960s. Juliana Da Silva
sings in Portuguese, Melissa Tham takes care of the English vocalizing, and Tony Lakatos takes a few tenor solos in the
Getz style. Eight of the 13 selections are Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions while two other songs are from the classic
bossa-nova era. However these renditions are not a copy of the past. Monteiro contributed three complementary
originals including “Samba Apaxionado” which deserves to be adopted by other artists. In addition to Lakatos (who is
also heard on soprano) and Monteiro, there are inventive solos by Jens Bunge on harmonica (who often has a
prominent role), Rit Xu on flutes and guitarist Wesley Gehring. The performances are creative within the world of
classic bossa-nova and are a consistent delight.
These two recommended CDs are available from Jeremy Monteiro at www.facebook.com/JeremyMonteiroFanpage.
Russ Miller Jazz Orchestra
You And The Night And The Music
The big band era ended in 1946 and today there are extremely few full-time jazz orchestras (other than Jazz At
Lincoln Center and the Count Basie Orchestra). But despite that, there are still a countless number of swinging big
bands playing locally in cities around the world. Many are rehearsal bands that only perform in public on an
occasional basis, but quite frequently these neighborhood ensembles feature top-notch musicianship, colorful
arrangements and excellent soloists along with a strong group spirit.
All of those qualities can be heard in Russ Miller’s big band, an orchestra based in Detroit. Miller, who plays alto and
flute with his orchestra, wrote all 12 of the arrangements, also contributing the exciting Latin jazz piece “El Gato
Armonico.” His wife Jeannine Course-Miller is featured on half of the selections, displaying a strong and attractive
voice and singing quite well.
The 16-piece orchestra features such fine soloists as pianist Rick Roe, trumpeters Walter White, Rob Wilson, Anthony
Stanco and Charlie Miller, trombonist Chris Smith and tenor-saxophonist Keith Kaminski; the trumpeters are often
the stars. In addition to the straight ahead pieces and some ballads, the highpoints are generally the Latinized pieces,
especially “Cinnamon and Clove” (which could have retitled “Cinnamon and Clave”), “El Gato Armonico” and “It
Could Happen To You.”
A high quality modern mainstream orchestra that looks back towards both bebop and classic Afro-Cuban jazz, Russ
Miller’s orchestra on You And The Night And The Music revitalizes the big band tradition. You And The Night And
The Music is recommended and available from www.doctheoryrecords.com.