Friday, July 29, 2011

Michel Camilo – Mano a Mano

2011 Decca

Michel Camilo (piano), Charles Flores (bass), Giovanni Hidalgo (congas)

Pianist Michel Camilo makes a triumphant return to the piano trio format with a clever twist on Mano a Mano, the Grammy Award winner's first trio project in four years. Along with bassist and long-time associate Charles Flores, Camilo forgoes the inclusion of a trap set player to include conguero extraordinaire Giovanni Hidalgo. The resulting eleven-track disc includes Camilo's trademark fiery lines, fusing Afro-Latin rhythms with jazz and soul harmonies. The opening "Yes," an impressive workout on "Indiana/Donna Lee," and an in-the-pocket rendition of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," are just the type of material one would expect from a Camilo record.

A lushness, marked by restraint, can be heard on "Then and Now" and "You and Me," both expressive ballads. The latter utilizes the bachata rhythm of Camilo's native Dominican Republic. A disc highlight is the samba "No Left Turn," a duet between Camilo and Hidalgo highlighting the pianist's incomparable left hand technique.

A showcase for both Camilo's compositional output and his one-of-a-kind piano style, Mano a Mano is Latin jazz with all the expected fire accompanying unexpected subtleties.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Orrin Evans - Freedom

2011 Posi-Tone

Orrin Evans (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), Byron Landham (drums, percussion), Anwar Marshall (drums), Larry McKenna (tenor saxophone)

Hot on the heels of his Captain Black Big Band release, pianist Orrin Evans delivers a swinging piano-trio tribute to his hometown of Philadelphia with Freedom. The disc has a contemplative feel with the occasional burst of frenetic energy. The direction is refreshing and telling of the maturity of Evans, who seems more concerned with artistic expression than technical posturing. With a style steeped in tradition, yet pushing forward ever-so-gently, Evans is able to show restraint while building layers of intensity, especially on the ballad "Dita"—Evans' only compositional contribution to the date—and an imaginative solo piano rendering of Herbie Hancock's "Just Enough," which serves as a fitting wrap-up. The pianist takes more of a thrill-seeking approach on up-tempo numbers such as "Hodge Podge" and "As Is."

Evans is supported by bassist Dwayne Burno and drummers Anwar Marshall and, long-time associate, Byron Landham, all Philly-bred musicians. The great tenor saxophonist and Philadelphia legend Larry McKenna adds insatiable swinging lines to a couple of tracks, including a straightforward rendition of "Time After Time."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jake Hertzog – Evolution

Jake Hertzog (guitars), Harvie S (bass), Victor Jones (drums)

2011 Buckyball Records

Jake Hertzog, now with a handful of recordings under his belt, is one of the very few prolific young guitarists to convincingly embrace the potential of blending a jazz and rock style of performing. What stands out in Hertzog's playing, aside from a comprehensive knowledge of his instrument, is a willingness, regardless of style, to put it all on the line. Hertzog doesn't hold back on Evolution, his third release with Buckyball Records. The recording has moments of jazz-infused exploration ("Don't Bother") and all-out rock with hard-driving, distorted rhythms ("Renegade," "Solar Flare"). Hertzog utilizes a variety of effects to illuminate rhythmic chord clustering and blistering single-note runs. Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," the disc's only cover, is given a plaintive acoustic rendering, bringing out the beauty of the tune's simplicity.

As with his previous trio releases, Hertzog wisely surrounds himself with veterans who can just as easily change course. Bassist Harvie S co-produces and contributes on both upright and electric bass. Drummer Victor Jones has an electrifying presence.

*Release Date: August 16

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tommy Smith – KARMA

2011 Spartacus Records

Tommy Smith (saxophones), Steve Hamilton (keyboards), Kevin Glasgow (electric bass), Alyn Cosker (drums)

Saxophonist Tommy Smith first garnered worldwide attention in the 1980s, performing with vibraphonist Gary Burton and recording under his own name for Blue Note Records. Since then, the Scottish musician has formed his own label, Spartacus Records, and has released twenty-four solo albums. His latest creative venture, KARMA, is a high-energy quartet release, melding jazz-rock grooves with melodic inspirations from around the globe.

Smith's ten original compositions, consisting of unexpected tempo shifts, harmonic unpredictability and blurring thematic swirls, provide an unrelenting momentum, even during slower material, such as "Land of Heroes." Much of what Smith composes presents technical challenges to band members, yet six-string bassist Kevin Glasgow and veteran U.K. keyboardist Steve Hamilton meet the music head-on with eloquence and virtuosity. Drummer Alyn Cosker propels the band with unfaltering precision, enticing Smith into improvisational cliff diving on the Arabic-flavored piece "Tomorrow."

A highlight of the session is Smith's meditative performance on Shakuhachi flute during the intro to "Star," a piece with an undeniable Japanese influence. All in all, KARMA consist of remarkable vitality and uncompromised musicianship.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brent Canter – Urgency of Now

Brent Canter (guitar), Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone), Adam Klipple (organ), Pat Bianchi (organ), Jordan Perlson (drums)

2011 Posi-Tone

Guitarist Brent Canter performs original jazz with a rock and funk edge on Urgency of Now, his debut release for Posi-Tone Records. The California native, now based in New York, astonishes with lyrical melodies over infectious grooves. Even the odd-metered pieces "Meet Me Halfway" and "Marina Del Ray" flow freely with a propulsive vigor. As a soloist, Canter is an inventive risk-taker, swirling horn-like lines into cohesive statements. The guitarist's tasteful use of distortion adds to the intensity of each solo, especially the explosive piece "With Eyes Closed"—drummer Jordan Perlson exhibits jaw-dropping precision here—and the tight funk of the closing title track.

The core of Canter's sound is the classic organ combo, featuring Perlson and alternating organists Adam Klipple and Pat Bianchi. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, who expands the ensemble on a handful of tunes, sets the bar high with stunning solo turns and a signature sound that seems to nestle into Canter's compositional style.

Urgency of Now is a compelling release, indicating a bright future, not only for Canter, but jazz guitar in general.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Scenes – Silent Photographer

John Stowell (guitar), Jeff Johnson (basses), John Bishop (drums)

2011 Origin Records

Intuitiveness coupled with camaraderie creates a steady flow of inspiration throughout Silent Photographer, the latest from the Seattle-based jazz trio known as Scenes. The collective, consisting of guitarist John Stowell, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop, performs mostly original compositions along with a few lesser-known jazz classics. Silent Photographer is their fourth release for Bishop's label, Origin Records.

Johnson, who is perhaps best known for his upright playing, is featured prominently on electric bass, soloing and, in the case of Herbie Hancock's "Chans's Song," interpreting a melody with a gracefulness not heard in most instrument doublers. The bassist gets the opportunity to show his prowess on upright on his own swinging piece "Contours," an up-tempo showcase for Stowell's inventive, almost pianistic approach. Stowell contributes a handful of tunes, including the plaintive "Windchaser," a vehicle for each of the musicians to improvise simultaneously without abandoning the lush essence of the piece.

The disc is full of stand-out moments, including John Coltrane's "Resolution," with Stowell on fretless guitar. The interpretation works well with a pseudo-funk vibe, reminiscent of something Bill Frisell might do. Stowell switches to acoustic guitar for the closing title track, a ballad with unhurried, streaming lines of spontaneity; A fitting summation to a recording ripe with beauty.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Travis Sullivan – New Directions

Travis Sullivan (alto saxophone), Mike Eckroth (piano), Marco Panascia (bass), Brian Fishler (drums)

2011 Posi-Tone

Alto saxophonist Travis Sullivan leads a perceptive quartet through a diverse set of his original tunes and a couple of covers on New Directions, his third release as a leader and debut for Posi-Tone Records. Aside from small group endeavors, the New York-based Sullivan leads his own 18-piece big band Bjorkestra, performing arrangements of the Icelandic pop icon Bjork.

Sullivan has a mature, lyrical sensibility, emphasizing melody and clearly focused thematic developments in his solos. Although at home in a variety of contemporary settings, including the Tears for Fears pop anthem "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," Sullivan excels on the disc's more straight-ahead fare. Tunes such as the boppish "Tuneology," the Rodgers and Hart ballad "Spring is Here" and the funk-meets-swing title track serve the saxophonist's expressive leanings.

Pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Brian Fishler play up to the challenge of Sullivan's compositional demands, bringing a relaxed playfulness to the odd-metered "Hidden Agenda" and the open-ended "Autumn in NH," a conversational vehicle with inspired results.

An enticing quartet with thoughtfulness and intensity, Sullivan and crew are forward thinkers with a firm understanding of what the tradition has to offer. New Directions is a stand-out jazz disc worthy of repeated listening.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Starlicker – Double Demon

2011 Delmark Records

Starlicker is the brainchild of Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek, whose dynamic excursions as a bandleader include the critically acclaimed Exploding Star Orchestra and Chicago Underground Trio. This latest vehicle for Mazurek's creative compositional style is a trio with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer John Herndon, a founding member of the band Tortoise.

The six tracks that make up Double Demon, ironed out in club dates prior to recording, contain a bounty of explosive energy, driven mercilessly by Herndon's unrelenting pulse and Adasiewicz's free-flowing style, creating thick, resonating textures, filling the space left empty by the absence of a bass player. Mazurek's to-the-point melodic themes and rhythmic repetitions are enough to draw a listener in and clear the way for improvisational adventure. As a soloist, Mazurek's hard-bop influence is unmistakable in sound and style, bringing a swinging allure to the most far-out spaces.

There's an apparent tightness found throughout the session, with enough cohesion to make for clever ensemble passages, allowing for clearly defined segues and endings, as on the opening title track. The hint of a drumline-gone-wild brings the disc to a peak of excitement on "Andromeda," splendidly followed by the meditative, hypnotic vibrations of "Triple Hex."

From start to finish, Double Demon doesn't let up. The music is purposeful, demonstrative, and refreshingly elegant.