CD Reviews

KARRIN ALLYSON"Footprints," by Karrin Allyson


Concord Records


By Butch Berman


BULLSEYE!! That’s exactly what this NYC songstress scored with her newest release, “Footprints,” on Concord Records. When they first signed her around a decade ago, they knew they had someone special in their midst. With this wonderful new CD, it’s apparent that Karrin has become their precious little gem, and I mean that in a good way, as she deserves all the acclaim she receives.


I’ve adored her music, and I have enjoyed my schoolboy crush on her since we first met in 1995. You bet she’s cute and sexy, but it’s her swingin’ confidence behind her immense talent that really turned me on the most. Watching her growth musically, on stage and personally, has been a pleasure to behold. Yep, she’s that good.


Being a true player and bandleader, besides her lovely voice, has gained Karrin much respect in this biz from her peers as well the multitude of fans the world over. Some have criticized her occasional outspokenness towards her audiences regarding not conversing during performances, but I’ve always thought she was right on. Sometimes you have to teach people how to listen to jazz, not only for those surrounding these rude-niks but for their own good, as an appreciation of jazz is a proven healing entity worthy of their attention. Karrin has earned her right to preach for what’s right, most evident on “Footprints,” which I stand on record as stating is her BEST ever, setting her own bar even higher. Now dig this.


You can’t go wrong when:


  1. You bring on board one of, if not THE savviest jazz singers in its history, Nancy King.


You can’t go wrong when:


  1. You add the legendary Jon Hendricks to the mix, recreating the lost art of vocalise in the traditions of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, or France’s Blue Stars featuring Blossom Dearie.


You can’t go wrong when:


  1. You use drummer Todd Strait, who has been with Karrin from her early KC days, despite his move to Portland, Ore., and can probably out-swing any of the NYC cats that she could have picked from. Her solidarity with Todd makes for one tight recording unit, as Todd can pick up on all of Ms. Allyson’s nuances and take it home in spades. It’s a wise choice, indeed, by either Karrin or her astute producers Nick Phillips and partner Bill McGlaughlin.


One of the city’s premier bassists, Peter Washington, blends with Strait to lay down a dynamite rhythm section augmented by pianist Bruce Barth, who’s really come into his own in the past few years and just totally cooks. Karrin found lyricist Chris Caswell, formerly with Paul Williams, at Feinstein’s, a Big Apple cabaret hot spot, and his clever new lyrics to some of the classic tunes chosen for this project are just brilliant.


I may have placed the first track, “Something Worth Waiting For (Con Alma),” in a different slot, as I tend to like the first cut on all albums and CDs to jump out at me a little more instead of being a little laid back. It’s still a very pretty number, and all of the rest not just shine brightly, but truly sparkle. Her stuff with Ms. King is picture-perfect throughout. Frank Wess, as always, blows his tenor sax to perfection. His signature tone captivates the songs he’s on, as well as his flute playing on “But I Was Cool.”


I’d love to see this whole album done live with this same line-up. It’s truly a work of art. Once you pick up “Footprints,” you will know you stepped in the right place at the right time. My wife, Grace, said she thought Karrin looked the happiest she could remember on the cover and all the rest of her photographs on the CD jacket. If I had just created a masterpiece like this one, I’d be feeling mighty serene myself. Bravo again.




LAURA CAVIANI"Going There," by Laura Caviani

Going There

Caviani Music


By Butch Berman


The piano trio is a delicate thing, kinda like cooking. Too much of this, not enough of that… For all things created to come out right, sometimes it’s what you leave out that makes it delicious. That’s exactly what composer, arranger and pianist Laura Caviani has accomplished on her new Minneapolis-based CD “Going There.”


A stunning photo of Laura graces the cover, and her jazzy, self-produced tunes are as lovely as is she. When I noticed she hired her dear friend and top-notch musician in her own right Karrin Allyson’s rhythm section of Topeka-born, Kansas City-bred bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Todd Strait, I knew this puppy would fly. As a matter of fact, it not only flies, it soars.


Caviani cleverly crafts each selection, knowing how to use space and dynamics to perfection. Todd and Bob are stone pros who weave in and out of Laura’s nifty keyboarding, and set up a mosaic of sound. They’ve gigged and recorded with the best—and each other—for decades, and it shows. Their stone-cold accuracy in providing the perfect accompaniment for the wide variety of fine compositions written by Caviani is most admirable. Being on the playing side of the biz for years, I can attest to the fact that no matter how “great” you might be, if your band sucks, you suck. On the other hand, if they cook you feel propelled to excel. In the case of this aforementioned trio, when they’re all that hot… look out.


“Going There” isn’t a CD that blazes, but of the “cool jazz” variety with just a touch of a wistful melancholy that makes me wonder if Laura was going back somewhere, visiting a musical reflection of days past. My fave track, showing off her well-honed beboppish licks, is “In the Interim,” which should have been the lead-off cut, for my money. All other selections are enjoyable listening, with a catchy vocal number entitled “Between the Lines,” utilizing a back-up horn section for a nice change of pace.


The band really hits their groove in a zone-like fashion on “The Gilded Cage,” which will by then have you, the listener, in the palms of its hands on this rather dreamy, but spirited jazz journey. Matthew Zimmerman’s recording capabilities at Wild Sound Studios, in Minneapolis, and Ms. Caviani’s production skills, are totally copasetic and in sync. Contact her at www.lauracaviani.com to purchase your own copy of “Going There” and you’ll be “where it’s at,” too.




ELDAR"Live at the Blue Note," by Eldar

Live at the Blue Note

Sony Classical


By Tom Ineck


We at the Berman Music Foundation can say we knew Eldar when he had a last name. Since he hit the big time, the young, hyper-virtuosic pianist has dropped the second half of his moniker—Djangirov—presumably for easier audience identification, at the behest of big-label executives.


“Live at the Blue Note” is Eldar’s second release on the Sony Classical imprint. He may have lost a last name, but he has lost nothing in technique or jaw-dropping speed. Recorded here at age 18, he remains as astoundingly precocious as he did at his Topeka Jazz Festival debut in 1998, at age 11.


Backed by longtime sideman Todd Strait on drums and bassist Marco Panascia, Eldar roars out of the gate like a young thoroughbred on the opener, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” His sense of time and touch never falters as he drives the tempo with amazing keyboard pyrotechnics.


In recent years, Eldar has also proven himself an accomplished composer, and there are four such originals here. “Someday” is a gorgeous ballad that allows the pianist to explore the lush changes for nearly 10 minutes. “Daily Living” bounds lightly over expansive chords, with arpeggios accelerating wildly, then segueing into a drum solo before returning for an exhilarating climax. “Sincerely” is another heart-wrenching ballad distinguished by its stately, classical voicing and sustained waves of sound.


Eldar demonstrates his affinity for percussive, soul-jazz riffs with his lengthy variations on Bobby Timmons’ bluesy “Dat Dere.” He begins “Besame Mucho” at an appropriately dreamy tempo, gradually stepping outside the familiar melody for some extended harmonic improvisations as the trio ratchets the intensity, Strait switching from brushes to sticks and Eldar synchronizing two-fisted block chords. The performance is an object lesson in dynamics.  


“Chronicle” is the most extraordinary example here of Eldar’s composing and playing abilities. Full of complicated stop-time passages and taken at a precarious tempo, it harkens back to some of the more mind-boggling feats of the young Keith Emerson, blurring the lines between classical technique, jazz exploration and rock audacity. Strait also contributes some stunning drum work.  


The live setting is given a more informal ambience by the interspersed guest appearances of two trumpeters, Chris Botti on the romantic ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and Roy Hargrove on Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” But, let’s face it, the reason we’re here is Eldar, last name or no last name.




JESSICA WILLIAMS"Billy's Theme," by Jessica Williams

Billy’s Theme

Origin Records


By Tom Ineck


Jessica Williams, the underappreciated piano master of the San Francisco Bay area, has taken a unique approach in her solo tribute to fellow piano giant Dr. Billy Taylor. Rather than simply playing variations on Taylor’s compositions, she has fashioned a very personal homage with eight Taylor-inspired originals.


The stately chords, the gentle stride in the bass register and the gospel feel of “Finally Free” opens the proceedings with the dignity appropriate for Taylor’s own graceful élan. Williams effortlessly varies tempo and mood, telling a story rather than simply going through the motions.


“Billy’s Theme No. 1” is built on a series of chords and modulations reminiscent of Ellington’s orchestral motives. Stretching beyond nine minutes, it allows Williams to range widely in variations before returning to the main theme. “The Soul Doctor” is a bluesy rumination pitting a comping left-hand pattern against searching right-hand flurries. Even more elemental is “Blues for BT,” a mid-tempo shuffle in which the left hand remains anchored in the lower regions of the keyboard while the right hand roams freely. Williams sensitively explores the minor-key waltz motif on “Taylor’s Triumph,” with lovely descending lines and occasional dissonant touches that are as refreshing as a summer rainfall.


More than 20 minutes of this generous CD is taken up by “Spontaneous Composition and Improvisation No. 1” and “Spontaneous Composition and Improvisation No. 2.” These tunes are so well conceived, so carefully constructed and so brilliantly developed that it is hard to believe they sprang full-blown in the moment. The closer is “Billy’s Theme No. 2,” a return of the earlier melody and an ideal showcase for Williams’ deft arpeggios and ringing tones at both ends of the keyboard.  


To give it the concert hall fidelity that both Taylor and she favor, Williams placed the microphones farther from the piano, allowing the keyboard’s full transient overtones and deep bass tones to be heard.   


As Williams says in the liner notes, she intentionally chose a “less is more” approach over the “flying fingers” style of so many contemporary keyboard virtuosi. The dichotomy is immediately apparent when you compare this relaxed, evocative outing with the frenetic display by the young Eldar Djangirov on his latest recording. Perhaps the realization that less is more is a lesson learned only with age and maturity.


I was first made aware of Williams when she played a trio date at Yoshi’s back in the early 1980s. Despite her relative obscurity outside the Bay area, Williams has nearly 30 CDs still in print. You are advised to check them out.





Organic Vibes

Concord Records


By Tom Ineck


“Organic Vibes” gallops out of the gate like a Roman chariot race, with musicians charging ahead while firmly in harness and working together. Joey DeFrancesco’s “The Tackle” is the riotous, swinging opener, an indicator of more good things to come.


Always energized, organist DeFrancesco has rarely had an unsatisfactory recording, but this is one of his best in years. Chalk it up to the inspired collaboration with legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who is much too rarely recorded in recent years. The light, ringing tone of the vibes seems like the perfect sound-mate for the brawnier Hammond B-3. And these two leaders on their respective instruments seem ideally compatible.


Add to the mix Ron Blake on tenor and soprano saxes and flute, guitarist Jake Langley and longtime DeFrancesco sideman drummer Byron Landham, and you have a formidable ensemble of musical giants. The capper is George Coleman, who lends his classic tenor sound to two tracks.


Hutcherson’s familiar melody “Little B’s Poem” is a nice vehicle for the front line of vibes, flute and organ as they leap through the changes with obvious glee. The 65-year-old vibraphonist carefully delineates the beautiful changes of “I Thought about You,” then hands it off to DeFrancesco, who contributes his usual jaw-dropping variations before returning it to Hutcherson for the conclusion.


Everyone gets a workout on the mid-tempo “Somewhere in the Night,” which is Coleman’s first appearance on the CD. In his solo, he proves he still has a powerful presence at age 71. DeFrancesco follows, in his full Jimmy Smith-style mastery of the keyboard. “Down the Hatch” is bluesy DeFrancesco burner that illustrates the rhythmic rapport that the organist has with Landham after 16 years working together.


The standard “Speak Low” is taken at a frightening clip and serves as a showpiece for Coleman, who deftly maneuvers through the rapid changes. The drummer contributed the romantic ballad “JeNeane’s Dream.” DeFrancesco holds back as Hutcherson and guitarist Langley introduce the waltz-like tune in tandem.


“My Foolish Heart” finds organist and vibraphonist pairing up in an exquisite reading of this evergreen. DeFrancesco is especially sensitive to Hutcherson’s long sustained passages and echoing tone.





Pensando en ti

Soundbrush Records


By Tom Ineck


A classical pianist with an eclectic interest in world music and Latin dance, Roger Davidson brings off this collection of boleros and rumbas with aplomb and sufficient authenticity to silence all doubters.


It certainly helps that Davidson has surrounded himself with superb musicians, including drummer Ignacio Berroa and bassist David Finck, in addition to flutist Marco Granados, guitarist Francisco Navarro, trumpeter Kenny Rampton and percussionist Pernell Suturnino. Together, they create the irresistible rhythmic drive and melodic romanticism inherent in these Latin song forms.


Recorded like a jazz album rather than a classical session, the mood is relaxed and the arrangements are uncomplicated, giving the musicians plenty of space to express themselves. For example, Navarro delivers a stunning guitar solo on the bolero “Somos Novios,” by the famous bolero composer Armando Manzanero. “La Gloria Eres Tu,” by Jose Antonio Mendez, has the muted trumpet passing the melody to the flute, then to Davidson at the piano. The flute and guitar improvise the introduction to “Mi Amor.”


Osvaldo Farres’ “Tres Palabras (Three Words)” was a rare hit for the bolero genre back in 1946, when the English version, retitled “Without You,” with lyrics by Ray Gilbert, was sung by Andy Russell in the animated film called “Make Mine Music.” Here it is accelerated to a rumba tempo, getting the respectful treatment with Davidson stating the theme, followed by an open trumpet passage and a stately piano solo.   


Another classic of the genre is “Mi Dolor,” a tango written in 1931 by Carlos Marcucci. Here it is transformed into an intoxicating bolero for piano and guitar. Both bassist Finck and trumpeter Rampton (on muted horn) take exhilarating solos on the uptempo “Rumba Feliz,” with Rampton delivering an especially dazzling statement before Davidson wraps it up with a nice piano solo.


Davidson owes melodic and stylistic allegiance to Bill Evans, expressed here in his version of Armando Manzanero’s “Esta Tarde Vi Llover,” which Evans recorded in its American version, “Yesterday I Heard the Rain.”


Davidson himself penned nine of the 14 tunes here, proving his affinity for the rumba and bolero. The similar song forms provide the perfect vehicles for his lyrical keyboard style.




JOHN McNEIL"East Coast Cool" by John McNeil

East Coast Cool



By Tom Ineck


Trumpeter John McNeil’s latest OmniTone recording did not arise suddenly from a whim to mimic the legendary pianoless quartet of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, though the instrumentation is the same. Never interested in merely duplicating someone else’s sound, McNeil used the format as a template for his typically uncompromising, contemporary approach to music. 


It took nearly a decade to bring the project to fruition. Soon after Mulligan’s death in 1996, McNeil was asked to arrange some of the baritone saxophonist’s compositions for a tribute concert. In the process, he began to imagine the possibilities of updating the sound with his own tunes and his own rhythm section. Finally, in January 2004, McNeil went into the studio with baritone saxophonist Allan Chase, bassist John Hebert and drummer Matt Wilson. The result, “East Coast Cool,” contains faint echoes of Mulligan and Baker’s so-called “West Coast Cool” style, while charting a new and exciting musical terrain.


The very nature of the pianoless quartet forces the players to create their own harmonic language, since they can’t simply rely on the keys to establish a rich harmonic backdrop for their solo improvisations. This is where McNeil and company excel—working out harmonies with great discipline and empathy, or dispensing with them entirely, venturing forth with call-and-response phrases, occasionally swerving dangerously into dark side streets and back alleys, but always arriving at their destination intact.


So it is with “Deadline,” the careening opener that quickly sets the pace and tone with stop-time precision, Wilson’s inventive rhythmic punctuation and deft dialogue between McNeil and Chase. “A Time to Go” is more reflective, almost introspective, and “Brother Frank” has an ominous loping gait, aided by Hebert’s reliable walking bass line.


Bernie Miller’s “Bernie’s Tune,” one of the rare tunes not written by McNeil, gets an off-kilter treatment that seems to alternately slow down and accelerate as Chase and McNeil trade solo statements. Wilson’s spirited drumming is especially impressive here.


“Delusions” is a classic McNeil invention, simultaneously enticing and baffling the listener with its frantic changes. “Wanwood,” on the other hand, is taken at a somber tempo that evokes sadness. On “Internal Hurdles,” Wilson directs the trumpet-sax interplay like a veteran cop directing traffic in downtown Manhattan.


Don’t try to dance to “Waltz Helios,” a rhythmically precarious venture. “Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto” bears little resemblance to the original, but illustrates McNeil’s ability to adapt the concepts of other composers to his own unique sound.


East, west, north or south, this is cool.






Sharp Nine Records


By Tom Ineck 


The venerable Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London is the setting for Joe Locke’s soulful celebration of the music of the late, great master of the vibraphone. For some 40 years, Milt Jackson’s bluesy approach was the perfect counterbalance to pianist John Lewis’ classical influences in the Modern Jazz Quartet. “Bags” died in 1999, but his music and “good vibes” live on.


For this outstanding tribute, recorded last April, Locke fronts an exemplary quartet that includes three former Jackson employees—pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker, who filled in for Connie Kay when that drummer’s declining health prevented him from touring with the MJQ in the 1990s. Together, Locke and company lend credibility, wit and technical proficiency to this heartfelt project.


Jackson’s soulful tune “The Prophet Speaks” is the fitting opener, giving everyone a chance to loosen up. Cedar Walton’s hip arrangement of the standard “Young and Foolish” is the perfect mid-tempo vehicle for Locke’s swinging pyrotechnics and LeDonne’s breezy keyboard artistry. A Ray Brown arrangement gives a Latin tinge to Burt Bacharach’s ballad “The Look of Love.”


The title track, penned by LeDonne, is a reference to Jackson’s gospel influences and to another of his nicknames, “The Reverend.” The soulfulness remains even when the tempo increases on Horace Silver’s “Opus de Funk,” which also features a masterful LeDonne solo on the Fender Rhodes keyboard.


“Close Enough for Love” is the only other ballad on this recording. It gets the romantic treatment but, as always, the blues feeling is never far away. Locke’s loping ode to Roker, entitled “Big Town,” brings out the best in the percussionist’s vast repertoire of licks, from subtle fills to intricate stop-and-go phrases. Ray Brown is credited with “Used to Be Jackson,” an uptempo bop number that ends the set in style.   


One hardly need mention the solid rhythmic support throughout this exciting live performance. It is a given that Cranshaw and Roker are in the upper echelon, masters of their craft. Otherwise, they—and LeDonne—would not have been so integral to Jackson’s band for the last decade of his performing life.


Stepping into the void left by Jackson’s passing was a daunting task for Locke, but he pulls it off with a combination of respect, class and his own inimitable sound.




CRIMSON JAZZ TRIO"King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 1" by Crimson Jazz Trio

King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 1



By Tom Ineck


It’s about time someone recognized the timeless quality of King Crimson’s music and its relationship to cutting-edge jazz. The seminal progressive rock band of the late 1960s continues to record and perform under the leadership of founder-guitarist Robert Fripp (2003’s “The Power to Believe” is the latest studio release) and remains a viable contributor to mature, contemporary music. Of whom else can this be said?


With its recording debut, the Crimson Jazz Trio pays long-overdue tribute to the sophisticated sounds of the band that introduced “21st Century Schizoid Man” in 1969! It is fitting that the trio opens the recording with its own jazzy rendition of this classic.


Pianist Jody Nardone, bassist Tim Landers and drummer Ian Wallace are more than equal to the task, reinventing all the tunes here in their own style, without sacrificing any of the urgency, audacity, astonishing technique and twisted wit of the originals. Nardone’s lushly harmonized chord progressions and straight-ahead bop lines set the standard for Landers’ fluid and thunderous fretless bass ruminations and Wallace’s stately, colorful and pungent percussion.


Landers’ playing is especially lyrical on “Three of a Perfect Pair,” from the 1984 release of the same name. The intensity grows as his booming lead statement is followed by a pounding piano excursion, aided and abetted by Wallace. “Catfood” is a quirky blues number from KC’s second release, 1970’s “In the Wake of Poseidon.” The canine vocalizing of “Hagi the dog” adds the appropriate comedic touch.


From 1974 comes “Starless,” a melodic gem that is given a gorgeous 10½-minute treatment here. “Ladies of the Road” is a swinging little number from the 1971 release “Islands.” Nardone and the others really work out on this one. The trio slows down again for the ballad “I Talk to the Wind,” also from “Poseidon” and perhaps the most beautiful melody in the entire KC songbook.


“Red” is an edgy, off-kilter 1974 tune that sends the trio into hyper-drive in a dazzling technical display. The closer is “Matte Kudasai,” a lovely Adrian Belew composition from KC’s 1981 release “Discipline.” Its exotic beauty is heightened by Landers in a soaring bass solo and by Nardone in a romantically lush piano solo, reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s yearning sound. Wallace keeps impeccable time and adds powerful accents on the cymbals.


After listening to “King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 1,” King Crimson fans—and jazz fans—can only ask, “When can we expect volume two?”




GREG ABATE QUINTET"Monsters in the Night" by Greg Abate Quintet

Monsters in the Night

Koko Jazz Records


By Tom Ineck


Aside from their evocatively creepy titles, the nine tunes contained herein under the banner “Monsters in the Night” have little in common with the music of horror film soundtracks or other popular mythology. They are, however, representative of Greg Abate’s ability as composer, arranger, leader and player.


Whether on alto or tenor sax or flute, Abate always rides the hard-bop edge, and fans of his style will be pleased that he continues that tradition here with tunes like the driving opener, “Dracula.” Abate admirably shares the front-line with trombonist Artie Montanaro, while pianist Paul Nagel, bassist Bill Miele and drummer Vinny Pagano aide and abet the insistent rhythm. For contrast, Abate switches to flute for the gentle waltz tribute to the “Bride of Frankenstein.”


The combo is comprised of first-rate accompanists who also solo with taste and expertise. The title track is a swinging shuffle that is elevated by a fine piano solo. Montanaro kicks off “Dr. Jekyll” with a brawny, confident solo, inspiring Abate’s lively entrance on alto sax. Miele shines while navigating the tricky changes of “In the Woods at Night.”


With titles like “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and “Pentagram, The Wolfman” some listeners may bemoan the single-minded thematic obsession with the horror genre and the lack of familiar jazz standards. Abate, however, knows the game well enough to vary tempo, arrangement and tone just enough to make things interesting. He also is a highly skilled composer with a quirky sense of humor, penning “Transylvania 6-5000” (no relation to Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000”) and cleverly ending the session with “Igor’s Revenge,” another vehicle for Abate’s fluent flute-playing.


At more than 65 minutes, “Monsters in the Night” is a generous sampling of Abate’s post-bop inclinations, with all participants given ample room to move. Rather than anything spooky, the title must simply refer to these “monster” musicians at work and at play with the music they love.




JOE CARTWRIGHT"The Best of Kansas City Jazz" by Joe Cartwright

The Best of Kansas City Jazz Vol. 1

Joe Cartwright Records


By Tom Ineck


After years of leading the Best of Kansas City Jazz Series in the Oak Bar at the Fairmont Kansas City, pianist Joe Cartwright had compiled some 24 hours of live, recorded music. With “The Best of Kansas City Jazz, Vol. 1,” he begins to share some of those memorable moments with those of us who were unable to attend.


Recorded between February and July 2004, each of the 10 tracks features a prominent KC jazz artist, with Cartwright himself confidently fronting the rhythm section with his impeccable keyboard work on all but one. For David Basse’s showcase, Lionel Hampton’s “Red Top,” the singer brought along his own outfit—pianist Oscar Williams, bassist Bryan Hicks and drummer Bill Goodwin.


Guitarist Rod Fleeman brings his ebullient style to “East of the Sun,” and virtuosic alto saxophonist Bobby Watson turns Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes” every which way but loose. With his soulful, urbane vocal style, Duck Warner turns Memphis Slim’s “Every Day I Have the Blues” into a sophisticated blues number. Trumpeter Stan Kessler expertly navigates Horace Silver’s difficult “Nutville” with brassy flair, taste and imagination.


Trombonist Paul McKee shows his warm tone and considerable technique on Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered.” Singer Sharon Thompson testifies with gospel-tinged soulfulness on “Teach Me Tonight,” which also features a bluesy solo by Cartwright. Kim Park caresses the wistful changes of “We’ll Be Together Again” with his fluent alto saxophone, and trumpeter Mike Metheny interprets Jobim’s “One Note Samba” on the EVI (electronic valve instrument). 


Cartwright’s authoritative presence is felt throughout this recording, but he really gets a chance to shine on John Lewis’ classic “Django,” with bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Ray DeMarchi. A veteran of late-night KC jam sessions, he can comp and lend harmonic and rhythmic support to any occasion, but his prodigious playing talents are often understated in his role as accompanist. The alternating tempos and moods of “Django” perfectly illustrate his technical accomplishment, sensitivity, and improvisational skills.


When the spotlight is on the featured soloists, it’s easy to overlook the essential rhythm players who make them sound so good. Spaits provides the bass foundation on five tracks, Bob Bowman on two and Tyrone Clark on two. DeMarchi’s solid and sensitive support on drums can be heard on nine tracks.




DOUG TALLEY QUARTET"By Request" by Doug Talley Quartet

By Request



By Tom Ineck


With its fourth CD on the Serpentine label, the Doug Talley Quartet continues to expand its repertoire and its tonal palette, adding horns and strings in a live recording last year at Valley View United Methodist Church in Overland Park, Kan. Applied to a set largely comprised of familiar standards, the lush arrangements are reminiscent of similar projects, including the seminal “Charlie Parker with Strings.”


Utilizing tenor sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet, Talley creates subtle shifts in mood and color. Like a jazz Picasso, he dabbles in mixed media and paints in broad swashes of sound from the accompanying ensemble of brass, reeds and classical strings. But it is the core quartet of longtime colleagues that make it all work so well—Talley on reeds, Wayne Hawkins on keys, Tim Brewer on bass and Keith Kavanaugh on drums. All contribute arrangements, assuring that the group dynamic is always at work.


Cole Porter’s sophisticated “Get out of Town” begins with a lush backdrop of strings before Talley states the theme on soprano. Hawkins, Brewer and Kavanaugh all get a chance to express themselves before the tune comes to a close. Talley switches to tenor sax for an interesting take on “Take Five,” which is also a showcase for Hawkins. The lilting Bill Evans ballad “Very Early” gets a gorgeous lush treatment, as does Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” with Talley again on soprano.


“Donna Lean” is, of course, a variation on Parker’s bop classic “Donna Lee.” The quartet draws on the Richard Rodgers songbook for “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and Ellington is well represented by loving renditions of “In a Sentimental Mood” and a closing romp on “Caravan.”  


The Talley quartet—augmented by trumpeter Al Pearson and alto saxophonist Gerald Dunn and backed by Shannon Finney on flute and piccolo, Elena Lence Talley on clarinet, Marvin Gruenbaum, Robin Prinzing and Brad Athey on violins, Monty Carter on viola and Les Mengel on cello—has taken another leap forward in its continuing exploration of jazz and all its permutations.




BRYAN McCUNE"Trumpet Rock" by Bryan McCune

Trumpet Rock

Microscopic Records


By Tom Ineck


From his hometown of Lincoln, Neb., trumpeter Bryan McCune’s travels have taken him to Chapel Hill, N.C., Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md., before his return to North Carolina, where he hooked up with a coterie of adventurous musicians to create a blend of jazz, folk and rock influences.


The result is “Trumpet Rock,” a fascinating collection of mostly McCune originals melding jazz instrumentation, a folk esthetic and an insistent backbeat. After an untraditional version of the traditional folk song “Wayfaring Stranger,” the band launches into a soulful “Revival on North Evergreen,” featuring Mark Daumen on tuba, Jim Crew on organ and McCune on cornet, flugabone (a cross between flugelhorn and trombone) and accordion.


The title track begins gently with acoustic resonator guitar, trumpet and Rick Lassiter on upright bass, and then launches into a fuzz-toned, electric rock rumble, McCune doubling on lap steel guitar. “Brudog’s Lament” is mournful, indeed, as it pits cornet, organ, sliding steel guitar and Wayne Leechford’s baritone sax in a slow, dirge-like anthem.


Cosmic allusions are obvious in “Martian Eyes,” with its farting tuba, spacey keyboards, and cornet loops. Its offbeat and audacious changes evoke the music of Frank Zappa. A gentle samba rhythm pervades “Ombah,” which comes closest to resembling a conventional jazz tune. Nearly 10 minutes long, it allows Crew to stretch out in a wonderful piano solo, followed by McCune on cornet, and Lassister on bass. Francis Dyer is the versatile drummer throughout these sessions, which come to a soulful conclusion with “Apostle of Droll.” 


By the way, besides being an excellent trumpeter and cornetist, McCune also plays assorted electronics, guitars, keyboards, accordion, percussion and that aforementioned flugabone. Much of this recording simply beggars description, leaving this writer at a loss for words to either make stylistic comparisons or cite precedents. Whatever it is, I like it.




ALEX GRAHAM"The Good Life" by Alex Graham

The Good Life

Origin Records


By Butch Berman


Origin Records has been putting out a ton of stuff these days, and mostly good stuff…real good, in fact. It’s more than I can ever listen to, and if you talented cats in Seattle are reading this…I really appreciate it. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite “new” guys is now with you, and his name is Alex Graham.


Hold on to this dude. He’s truly on his way to making an indelible mark in the jazz world as on of the upcoming monsters. Yup, he’s that good.


I very favorably reviewed his first CD, “Grand,” in the November 2005 newsletter and found it to be so, like its title…grand. That was more of a New Orleans-styled jazzy r&b band with a cool singer and, as always, Alex’s inspired signature horn, with such luscious tone and impeccable phrasing. It’s not often that an artist’s second effort will impress as much as my introduction to him or her, especially if it’s really a killer debut out of the chute. With “The Good Life” and an entirely different back-up ensemble, Alex Graham has done it again, and in spades. Recorded back in 1998, this is truly a dynamite piece of work from beginning to end. I know that when, right after I listen to a new CD, I immediately have to hear it again before checking out another musician’s hopeful entry lying in wait among so many others.


It’s another no-frills, straight-ahead jazz album played to perfection, and a song selection to match. Alex on alto, flute and clarinet is brilliantly supported by this trio of solid senders. A newcomer to me, Rick Roe at the piano is simply a delight with his understated comping that still speaks mightily. That mega-chopster bassist Rodney Whitaker walks you into the next stratosphere and is so connected to drummer Joe Strasser on this session, you’d think they were musical Siamese twins... tight, man, tight. This triple-threat trio becomes this Hummer of a magic carpet for Mr. Graham to float and soar above… and does he ever!


There are two originals and four covers, including one of the prettiest versions of “I Had the Craziest Dream” that has ever been recorded. This is an above-standard standard, by all means. The average length of each track is nearly 10 minutes, enough time for these timeless cats to really stretch and blow and present you with one of best jazz albums of 2005-6, even if it was recorded nearly eight years ago. It’s way better late than never, and “The Good Life” will be required listening for the ages. 




DAVID GIBSON"The Path to Delphi" by David Gibson

The Path to Delphi

Nagel-Heyer Records


By Butch Berman


Interesting…the two main CDs I picked out to review for this issue of Jazz both have Joe Strasser at the drum helm. This cat’s good, and if you’re going to launch the beat behind the likes of trombonist David Gibson, you’d better be. Gibson’s new creation, “The Path to Delphi,” on Nagel-Heyer Records is a complete cooker, and besides his most ample chops, showcases the thought-provoking songwriting ability of Mr. Gibson. Like a rocket ship taking flight, the title track provides the first stage of motion, and by the time this wondrous work closes with David’s “Prometheus’ Peace,” you’re in orbit.


This swinging crew of “jazz astronauts,” including Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Wayne Escoffery on soprano saxophone, Rick Germanson at the keys, bassist Dwayne Burno and the previously mentioned drummer, Mr. Strasser, literally tear this puppy up. This is a true jazz experience, which these days is a pleasure to behold for some of us old be-boppish purists.


David, in his liner notes, speaks of searching for the truth in his music, and in this case that’s no lie. Recorded in NYC in 2004, this release takes hold of all your pleasure centers. Yearning, urging and caressing your senses while keeping your feet moving, “The Path to Delphi” is truly a mind journey that you can also feel within your body. Everyone played their butts off, yet this musical story encompasses the usage of space, inner and outer, and everything just seems to fit. Try this one on for yourself, and beat a path to your favorite record outlet for “The Path…” Repeated listening will be mandatory.


A major league thank-you goes out to David Gibson for keeping the jazz tradition alive with his horn, for his musical outpouring, and for just keeping it so real. Truth…it is!




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